EVERETT — On I-5 and other major highways, the left lane is supposed to be the passing lane.
Some drivers seem to believe otherwise, that it’s somehow reserved, just for them.
The Washington State Patrol spent the past three days trying to correct that perception by handing out tickets and warnings to drivers who overstayed their welcome.
The goal was to bring attention to a left-lane law people either ignore, never knew or have forgotten.
Last year, the Washington State Patrol stopped 13,909 left-lane law violators.
In Snohomish County, trooper Heather Axtman handed out her share of warnings.
In the first 15 minutes on the road Wednesday, she pulled over three drivers who were lingering in the left lane. There was a steady stream of others after that.
By Friday afternoon, most drivers quickly were moving to the right when Axtman’s white WSP vehicle appeared in their rearview mirror. In the morning, a State Patrol plane was providing eyes from the sky, spotting left-lane traffic cloggers and alerting troopers on the road.
A Whatcom County man, 24, stayed put, his Honda Accord gumming up the flow long enough for a tail-gater to pass him to the right. When Axtman pulled him over on a stretch of southbound I-5 between Marysville and Everett, he said he didn’t know about the left-hand lane law.
Some do; some don’t.
“Most of them know the law and they are willing to admit it,” Axtman said.
Often, drivers move into the left lane and get lost in their thoughts.
“We need people to constantly remain aware of what is going on,” she said.
And that means short stays in the left-hand lane for passing.
Troopers don’t want drivers to speed in the left lane. Nor do they want them to hold up traffic.
Both can lead to accidents.
Lingering drivers can cause problems, contributing to tail-gating, erratic passing, aggressive driving and even road rage, Axtman said.
“If people are starting to pass you on your right, that’s an indication that you need to get over,” she said.
Axtman said people traveling the speed limit in the left lane need to get over to let faster drivers pass with the understanding troopers will catch up to the speeders and aggressive drivers.
In other words, drivers should let troopers enforce speed limits instead of doing it on their own by holding up the left lane.
Enforcing the left-lane law also is one more way to reduce congestion, Axtman said.
Stop-and-go traffic during rush hour, when the left lane is reduced to a slow trickle, is a much different story, she added.
Under state law, on highways with two or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, drivers are supposed to remain in the right lanes “except for overtaking and passing another vehicle in the same direction, when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, when moving left to allow traffic to merge or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; email@example.com.