There probably isn't a day that goes by without my getting blocked by a painfully slow driver in the passing lane of the expressway who refuses to move no matter what I do. Horn, high beam flashing. Nothing. I'm forced to either stay behind the slow driver or pass him on the right, something I prefer not to do. When a driver fails to move to the right for faster traffic to pass on the left, the driver isn't just inconveniencing others, he or she is putting people in danger.

passing signage
This mocked-up signage pretty much explains everything. 

But that's not what these drivers think. Many drivers who feel the need to obstruct faster-moving traffic think slowing others down makes the road safer. But the opposite is actually true according to studies. Slower drivers cause faster-moving traffic to pass on the right and zig-zag through lanes, causing unnecessary braking in all lanes.

There's a dangerous ripple effect when someone has to pass on the right into slower traffic because someone is blocking the passing lane. This is one of the leading causes of highway accidents in the United States. Let's take a look at the video below to see what happens when drivers pass slower moving traffic that's obstructing the left lane.

Once the 55 mph speed limit law was enacted for highways, drivers mistakenly thought that they could drive in any lane as long as they kept the speed limit, forcing faster-traveling vehicles to pass them on the right. But the passing laws take precedence over the speed limit, meaning if someone is driving 75 in a 55, and you're driving 55, you still have to move to the right to let them pass. 

Cars in the left lane driving 5 mph slower than the surrounding traffic have a greater chance of causing accidents than cars driving 5 mph faster, and slow drivers in both lanes can cause faster drivers to swerve in and out of lanes, which further increases the level of danger. Highway data shows that slowing down and swerving between lanes due to slow drivers in the passing lane can be far more dangerous than speeding, causing almost 10 percent of total highway accidents. 

state passing laws

In 29 states, any vehicle that's driving slower than the pace of traffic must move to the right to allow faster cars to pass. In 11 states, the left lane must only be used for passing or turning or suffer a ticket by your local law enforcement. Texas, Ohio, and Washington are particularly strict about enforcing this law. 

By contrast, look at the high-speed Autobahn in Germany. I've driven on it and can attest that pretty much everyone observes the left lane as for passing purposes only. No one passes on the right. And it's acceptable (and the norm) to use your high beams quickly to signal someone to move. Slow drivers get out of the way quickly and safely, reducing the number of accidents and fatalities. These stats are much lower than those in America for this very reason. 

Autobahn traffic
The German Autobahn is one place where drivers use the left lane properly. (image: Deutschland.de)

According to a study by the Traffic Operations & Safety Laboratory within the engineering department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, accidents and fatalities increase significantly when left lane passing only behavior is not exercised.

We wish drivers understood this, but it's become part of American driving culture to just drive in any lane you want and get mad at those trying to pass. If police officers would take the time to write more citations for driver's like this, it's likely that it would reduce the number of highway accidents and deaths. At the very least, you should strive to practice this kind of safe driving so others can get the message, too.