Move To The Right, Slowpoke

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Some of you need to move to the right. All of us need to get our friends and neighbors to understand when they need to move to the right.

No, this isn’t about political directions, though it is about a problem that has been addressed through the political process. More needs to be done.

I’m talking about the bane of every traveler’s existence. This column is about those that get on the highway and immediately move into the left lane – and stay there.

A quick trip from Marietta to the Georgia coast and back this week was the latest in my many observations crisscrossing this state. The trip down was before sunrise Thursday. The trip back was early Saturday morning. Neither trip was in peak traffic, when many stretches of Georgia’s highways are at or even exceed capacity.

The problem is simple and easy to see. Those going slower than the flow of traffic in the left lane – often riding beside vehicles going the same speed for long stretches at a time – cause a backup of vehicles behind them. This leads to some who are impatient doing stupid things to try and get around the blocking cars up front, and increases the likelihood of a multi-car crash of those who bunch up together waiting for an opportunity to pass.

Some are oblivious to the cars lining up behind them. A large portion of the cars I passed on the right on this trip were looking down – apparently texting or otherwise occupied with their phones. That is, of course, illegal in Georgia.

Many Georgians are also still unaware that just remaining in the left lane on a divided highway when faster traffic approaches is also illegal, regardless of the speed they are going. Georgia passed a “slow poke law” in 2014. The law was written such that any driver – even ones who “may” already be exceeding the speed limit – must move to the right if traffic behind them is traveling faster and wishes to pass.

The State Patrol writes a few hundred tickets for this violation per year. Truth be told, they’ve also been a bit understaffed and often have their hands full with higher priority enforcement issues. This is where some additional guidance and encouragement from the state should come in.

The cost of new lane miles needed to expand our freeway system is in the billions of dollars. In congested metro Atlanta, a temporary stopgap was to spend a fraction of that amount on things that increased efficiency of the current system, such as metering lights at freeway on ramps.

These measures allow the state to get more cars consistently through the same space. GDOT and the state’s law enforcement agencies need to consider an education campaign as well as additional enforcement of the slow poke law to do the same for Georgia’s rural highways.

A few hundred tickets per year in a state of ten million residents plus visitors is not enough for word of mouth to let folks know Georgia is serious about fixing this problem. The state should pair an extensive public service campaign with aggressive enforcement. Figuring out a way to get the various local jurisdictions that current sit alongside freeways waiting for speeders to put some resources into this would be helpful.

Many of these violators are from out of state. My experience is that there is nothing that can be done to get someone with Virginia plates out of the left lane. It seems only sporting to give those who were never taught how to drive property to see posted notices of their impending fate.

Signage on the left side of freeways needs to say more than “slower traffic keep right”. It should also note that GA law requires this as well. Posting the fine involved would be worthwhile.

The law passed in 2014 had good intentions. It also serves as a lesson that a law the public is largely unaware of, and is seldom enforced, serves more to be a random punishment than one that changes anyone’s behavior.

If we’re going to have this law – and we should – then let’s get an actual plan together to work on raising both awareness and enforcement. This will get us where we’re going not only faster, but safer as well.

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