Dear SoCal: The Danger and Traffic Caused by Selfishly Driving Slow in the Left Lane

Photo by Brian Addison. Graphics courtesy of Vox.

It was a moment that remains frustrating and perpetually present whenever driving on a SoCal freeway.

I was unable to take transit because of my partner’s work schedule, so I had to hop on the 710 after watching the premiere of the KCET documentary I helped create. A driver on the far left was off in La La Land as hordes of other drivers swerved their cars around them to pass by. Once past the driver, I glanced in my rear view mirror, noticing the driver was still in the lane while traffic directly behind him slowed and, as speeders raced around him, prompting a slow-down in other lanes as well.

Who the hell knew where the trail of slowed down vehicles eventually ended.

Depending on where and when, this is far more a cause of traffic and accidents than any form of speeding—because here’s the thing: the biggest predictor of an accident is actually a driver’s variance from the average speed of traffic around it, not speeding itself.

And states are keeping up on this fact. Eleven states only allow the left lane for turning or passing while 29 (California included) states have passed laws which highlight that any driver not maintaining “normal speed of traffic” should be in the right lane. Nevada, joining a few states like Alaska, just passed a law that makes it illegal to do anything under the speed limit in the left lane.

Here’s what happens when you drive slow in the fast lane: you prompt faster drivers to swerve in and out of lanes, passing you on the right. This is dangerous none the matter but make this a two-lane highway and the results can be disastrous.

On top of creating chaos, slower drivers in the left lane create an uneven flow of traffic that, while that slower driver is tapping his or her wheel like the care-free person they are, miles upon miles of cars behind them break, swerve, speed up, and, well, create more chaos.

So, whether it is some odd comfort in the left hand lane—you want to be in a more “open” space with your vehicle than the more crowded right lanes that often include trucks—or you just believe that all lanes are your rightful space, neither are reasonable and both create danger.

So stop.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.