Oklahoma House Bill 2312 goes into effect today.
The bill has restrictions for motorists who drive in the left-hand lane on divided highways of four lanes or more.
As a motorist who has driven many miles across the state, and the country, on just such roads, I could not be happier about the new law. People who drive along in the left lane completely oblivious to the flow of traffic — often called “campers” by many — drive me insane.
Ok, maybe not insane, but come on. Who doesn’t know the left lane is the passing lane?
I said campers by “many.” I call them something else.
But deep in the back of my brain, I know the next time I get on a four-lane, divided highway, there will be someone who doesn’t know — or doesn’t care, or doesn’t care to know — about the law.
So I have contained my excitement. I mean, they passed a law that demands motorists not text and drive, but I see people doing it every day.
But I can hope, can’t I?
According to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, the new restrictions state, “A vehicle may not be driven in the left lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle, other than in situations where traffic conditions or road configurations require the use of the left-hand lane in order to maintain safe traffic conditions. Drivers may be ticketed for violating the statute.”
And that fine for camping out in the left lane will be $236. Much too low, if you ask me.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Last week, I was driving west on Lonnie Abbott Industrial Boulevard, and I eventually entered the J.A. Richardson Loop.
As soon as the large group of drivers in front of me entered the loop, a person in an SUV got into the left lane. She was right beside another vehicle.
Both vehicles maintained a speed of 60 miles per hour in a 65 MPH zone.
It’s fine if a person wants to drive below the speed limit, but it should be done in the right lane.
Back to the story. The two drivers maintained this side-by-side relationship all the way to the Latta exit. I was in the left lane behind the SUV.
As it turned out, she wanted to take the Latta exit but didn’t have the foresight to get in the right lane sooner.
So when it came time for her to get in the right lane at the last second, she slowed to 45 mph to get behind the car with which she had developed that strong side-by-side bond.
So I, too, had to slow to 45 mph while driving in the left lane.
Boom! Nuclear explosion in my head.
I thought to myself, “I can’t wait until that new law takes effect.”
But I bet that person won’t grasp it and will eventually do it again. It wasn’t road rage; it was just me being dumbfounded that someone doesn’t understand the rules of the road. And the whole left lane is a passing lane has been a road rule for a long time.
It is also a safety issue.
DPS Commissioner Michael C. Thompson said the new wording is an important measure to improve public safety on Oklahoma highways.
“Any step we can take to improve safety on our roadways is worth our collective efforts,” Thompson said. “As we are all well aware from recent events in the news, our roadways are increasingly volatile. It doesn’t take much for a minor traffic disagreement to escalate into a deadly road rage incident with tragic results. I am hopeful this legislation will reduce tension and also result in better access for public safety and first responder officials driving to emergency situations.”
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has installed “Slower traffic, keep right” and “Do not impede left lane” signs in 234 locations along I-35 and I-40 from state line to state line, except in the metro area.
“Safety is always a top priority for ODOT, so we are pleased that this law moves to increase driver safety by improving traffic flow,” said ODOT Director Mike Patterson. “We are glad that we can support OHP in their effort to enforce this law and improve highway safety through new signage clarifying driver expectations.”
Patterson sad OHP officials recognize that high-volume traffic in metropolitan areas, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, may require all lanes to be occupied at times.
I have included photos of the signs to which Patterson referred with this column.
And just because traffic is heavy in metro areas, it doesn’t mean a slow driver is free to block traffic flow in the left lane.
“This is not a reason to hang out in the left lane,” OHP Chief Ricky Adams said. “If you are driving in the left lane and a vehicle is behind you, you need to move to the right as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so. And although the left lane may be used to overtake slower-moving vehicles, that is not an excuse to exceed the speed limit when passing.”
And, according to DPS, there is no need to have any road warrior vigilantes out there. OK, that wasn’t the exact wording, but you know what I mean.
Officials said drivers should not attempt to drive slowly in the left lane to prevent others from speeding. Drivers are still expected to obey speed limits and all other traffic laws as always. Surrounding states have similar laws restricting travel in the left lanes.
Yeah, Texas has the law as well, but I encounter left-lane campers all the time down there.
“The safety of our citizens is always a priority in the House of Representatives, and many states across the country are implementing laws that prohibit driving in the left lane unless passing as a way to lower accidents and fatalities,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, author of the law. “I live next to State Highway 69/75 in Atoka, and I see firsthand the dangers of slow traffic in the left lane. We worked diligently with both the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation this session to get this law passed. Now, we need to quickly ensure that the public is aware of the change so they can adjust their driving behaviors.”
And to that I say, “Thank you, and well done.”