Is Driving in the Left Lane of the Highway Illegal?

Have you ever been driving along the interstate highway, pulled out to pass a slow car, and found another driver is in your way because they are just cruising down the left lane of the highway? This inconsiderate driving habit hinders car safety and is illegal, in some way or another, in almost every state.

Is driving in the interstate highway’s left lane dangerous?

Driving slowly in the highway’s left lane causes faster moving cars to pass on the right. Because this is a maneuver other motorists don’t expect, it is relatively dangerous. In fact, driving slowly in the left lane is more likely to cause a crash than driving 10 mph over the speed limit.

Drivers in the left lane of a busy interstate highway lined by trees and billboards.
Interstate highway | Paul Harris via Getty Images

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The website AutoInsurance.org reveals that slower drivers, in a lane not intended for them, are a common cause of crashes. This is why an increasing number of states are leveling tickets and fines at left-lane “slowpokes” camped out in the passing lane. In addition, some insurance companies are as quick to increase your rates for getting a ticket or causing a crash because you were moving to slow, as when you were moving too fast.

Where is it illegal to drive slowly in the left lane of the highway?

Every state in the U.S. has some kind of law against driving slowly in the left lane of the interstate highway. Some of these laws depend on the speed of the traffic around you, others on the speed limit, and still others on whether you are blocking traffic.

An old white station wagon car driving down an empty rural road with telephone poles and fields visible in the background.
Vintage car on a four-lane road | Spencer Platt via Getty Images

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Some states even have strict laws that you must keep the left lane of the interstate highway clear unless you are actively using it to pass or to turn. The states with this most severe form of the left-lane law are Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

AutoInsurance.org adds that there is a trend to outlaw, and ticket, slow left lane drivers in the southern part of the U.S. We already covered Indian’s $500 fine for holding up traffic by driving slowly in the left lane and South Carolina’s legislation to ban “left lane camping.”

Will you actually get in trouble for left-lane driving?

Every state has some rule against driving slowly in the left lane. But it is enforced much less often than other moving violations. This may be because of assumptions police officers make.

An empty multi-lane interstate highway, a bridge visible in the distance.
Empty highway | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Even though AutoInsurance.org reveals that driving slowly in the left lane causes as many accidents as speeding, most people might be surprised by this fact. This may be why police officers are not quick to pull over and ticket drivers for cruising the left lane–according to The Washington Post. In fact, most officers will just flash their lights to make the law-breaking driver move to the right, then leave them be.

But as lawmakers realize how much misuse of the passing lane contests traffic, causes accidents, and leads to road rage, standard procedure is changing. Georgia is one place where legislative pressure is pushing police officers to at least cite warnings.

Sgt. Keving Pope of the Georgia State Police admits he’s written warnings out to at least 25 drivers. He says, “I’ve just been trying to educate people…Once you explain it to them, they’re like, ‘Yeah that makes sense.’” And if Sgt. Pope catches them cruising again, Georgia has a $500 fine he can level.

Next, find out whether it’s illegal to walk on the highway or watch Vox’s deep dive into what happens if you drive slowly in the left lane in the video below:

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