An effort to ban slow drivers from cruising in the left lane was voted down in an N.C. Senate committee Wednesday, effectively killing the bill for this legislative session.
Senate Bill 303 would issue a $200 fine to drivers caught driving below the speed limit or “impeding the flow of traffic” in the left lane of a highway – unless the driver is actively passing another car or preparing to turn left.
The bill defines “impeding the flow of traffic” as a situation when “the person knows or reasonably should know that he or she is being overtaken from the rear by a vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed.” The fines would only apply to highways that are “controlled access or partially controlled access,” such as interstates and other freeways.
Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, said he’s opposed to the bill because it could penalize drivers who follow the speed limit. He says he was once pulled over in West Virginia because he went exactly 55 mph in a work zone where that was the posted speed limit, and a law enforcement officer told him he was “holding up traffic.”
“I don’t want to see that happen in North Carolina,” he said. “I can see problems.”
Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, said he’s unsure how the left-lane law would be enforced. “Is this going to be a priority given the myriad other things that law enforcement do?” he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County, said North Carolina is one of only five states that don’t have specific laws addressing left-lane use. He said his bill is similar to laws already on the books in Georgia and South Carolina.
“We’ve got people in the left lanes that are stopping traffic and not allowing people to pass,” Tarte said. “People are passing on the right side when they shouldn’t be. It creates bunching, which leads to congestion, and it creates road rage.”
Tarte said the penalty in his bill wouldn’t be considered a moving violation, and therefore wouldn’t cause higher insurance rates for drivers caught hogging the left lane. He said he’s faced questions about whether the bill would mean law enforcement would be pulling over slow drivers instead of speeders, but that both categories could get ticketed if his bill passes.
“It’s not any individual motorist’s responsibility to enforce the speed limit of another driver,” he said.
The bill was defeated in a voice vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, with only a few senators supporting the measure. Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Wilkesboro Republican, indicated that she thought the bill was unnecessary.
“Impeding traffic is already on the books,” she said. “Why it’s not being enforced, I can’t tell you.”