So I’m driving along the other day in the left lane of a major interstate highway, and I get up behind a Honda CR-V with “Conserve Wild Resources” license plates. These license plates have a picture of an owl on them. It was at this moment when I knew I would soon be passing on the right.
And, indeed, as I approached the CR-V, I realized I was correct. The owl-lover driving the thing was going approximately 67 miles per hour in the left lane, which is acceptable in some circumstances, but not these. In these circumstances, the speed limit was 65 miles per hour, there weren’t any cars around us, and I was a faster vehicle approaching from behind. But the CR-V driver pressed on, undeterred, looking approximately as bewildered as the owl on his license plate.
So I passed him, and I continued along, and I forgot about the whole incident until two miles later, when the same exact thing happened. Well, not the exact same thing, because it wasn’t a CR-V with owl plates. It was an Oldsmobile Alero with “Animal Friendly” plates. But the circumstances were identical: he was in the left lane, traveling the speed limit, with no apparent concern for other traffic, treating the lanes as if they were a grocery store aisle and he was trying to decide between Crest and Colgate.
This would never happen on the highway in Germany. For one thing, they don’t have special license plates there. All the license plates in Germany are black and white and they use this unique font that was specially designed to prevent fraud. This is the difference between Germany and America: they take license plates very seriously as a legitimate law enforcement tool. We put owls on them.
But the other thing that would never happen in Germany is, people would never go the speed limit in the left lane for no reason. I say this because I’ve spent many hours driving in Germany, and the Germans are very sincere about the whole “SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT” thing. In Germany, when you go to pass someone on the left, you do it carefully, and quickly, and then you jerk your car back over to the right lane like a Mario Karter trying to avoid a red shell.
The reason for this behavior is, of course, that it is much more difficult to get a driver’s license in Germany than it is in America. In Germany, you go through all these courses, and all this training, and all these tests, and this long, stringent probationary period where you’ll get banned for life if you do something like forget to properly fold your yellow safety vest. Whereas in America, the most difficult question they ask you when you’re trying to get a driver’s license is: Do you want to be an organ donor?
So what people talk about, every time the subject of left lane hogging comes up, is driver training. What we need to do, says the American Society For Turning Left Lane Hogs Into Left Lane Bacon, is re-train everyone. But there’s a problem: there are currently 6 zillion licensed drivers in the United States, plus an additional 50,000 or so children sitting on their parents’ laps and steering the family SUV through a parking lot. It would be impossible to re-train all these people. It would take money, and time, and resources, and the American federal government doesn’t have any of that, unless oil is involved.
And that’s why I have a better idea: the police should just start enforcing the left lane laws.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: the left lane laws. Every single state has a “left lane law” on the books, though they vary greatly in severity. For instance: in Vermont, the law very clearly states that all drivers going slowly in the left lane shall be pulled over and given a hug. Whereas in Arizona, the law says that left lane hogs should be pulled over and issued a fine not to exceed $200 “unless the driver appears to be Hispanic, at which point their car should be searched by rabid wolves.”
But here’s the problem with these laws: they’re never really enforced. Nobody ever really gets pulled over for driving too slowly in the left lane. And just like any law that’s never enforced, a lack of enforcement leads to widespread public disregard. As examples, I cite jaywalking, and stopping at traffic lights on your bicycle, and smoking pot with your friends while you watch re-runs of Walker, Texas Ranger.
So here’s what I propose: instead of re-training every single driver in America to treat the left lane as a passing lane, we should dramatically increase enforcement of the laws we already have by pulling over every single left lane hog in sight. What would happen is, these people would go home and tell their friends about their ticket (“I got a ticket for going too slowly in the left lane!”), and their friends would become bewildered (“You can get a ticket for going too slowly in the left lane?!”), and eventually the entire country would start keeping right except to pass.
Then we could focus on more important things, like commissioning a study to determine how we have 6 zillion licensed drivers and only 320 million citizens.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.