Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City.
Photo: AP

“For all you folks who like to drive in the left lane on a divided highway, guess what?” The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Nov. 10 in announcing new legislation outlawing the practice. “You’re breaking the law. The left lane is a passing lane.” And ... guess what? Since then police have pulled over dozens of motorists for breaking the law, not all in situations one might describe as “making sense.”

The law is not the first of its kind, of course, and most states have rules on the books concerning the proper use of the left lane on highways. But Oklahoma’s law is among strictest, since violating it can come with a fine of up to $235. The point of these laws isn’t usually about changing behavior, though; it’s about giving police a new basis for pulling over suspicious cars or drivers.

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The Oklahoman recently took stock of how the law was working out, using Darren Fields’ case as an example. Fields was pulled over for violating the law on what he says was a mostly empty stretch of Interstate 40.

Ten days prior, a new state law had taken effect, forbidding motorists on a four-lane highway to travel in the left lane. The description of the violation on the tickets describes the violation as impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane, but Fields said there was no traffic on the road to impede.

“There were maybe two other cars where I was at,” he said.

Fields was also found to be driving under the influence and with an open container, though the basis for the whole traffic stop didn’t exist just two weeks prior. Fields isn’t the only one getting dinged.

Fields was just one of 60 people who were cited for violating the law during the first three months it was enacted, according to records obtained by The Oklahoman.

Of those citations, the largest number were issued in Carter County. All but one of the 14 tickets in that county were issued by the same trooper, records show.

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You can read the full text of the law here, but this is the key passage:

5. Upon a roadway which is divided into four or more lanes, a vehicle shall not be driven in the left lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle; provided, however, this paragraph shall not prohibit driving in the left lane when traffic conditions, flow or road configuration, such as the potential of merging traffic, require the use of the left lane to maintain safe traffic conditions.

More surprising, the statue says it’s also illegal to travel in the center lane on a three-lane highway.

3. Upon a roadway which is divided into three lanes, a vehicle shall not be driven in the center lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle where the roadway is clearly visible and the center lane is clear of traffic within a safe distance, or in preparation for a left turn or where the center lane is at the time allocated exclusively to traffic moving in the direction the vehicle is proceeding and is signposted to give notice of the allocation.

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By force of habit, I’m pretty anal about keeping to the right on two-lane highways, mainly to reduce stress, so I’m not opposed to the idea of codifying rules about how to use the left lane, but if you do, that rule should be simple, and easy to understand. The rule should be: Yield to faster traffic. Full stop.