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Germany’s famous Autobahn, in spite of its notorious lack of a posted speed limit, has a far better safety record than the highway systems in the United States. And even though they routinely drive at speeds that would raise the eyebrows of most Americans, German drivers must follow other rules that you may find surprising.
Stopping on the Autobahn because you’ve run out of gas is considered preventable and will cost you hefty fines as well as suspension of your license – possibly even a prison sentence. Autobahn drivers are required to drive in the right lane whenever they can and are only permitted to use the left lane when passing a slower vehicle. And passing on the right is strictly forbidden.
Is it possible, then, that following certain common-sense rules while driving can be just as important as the speed at which you drive? There is evidence that suggests that the strongest predictor of an accident is not speed, but rather variance from the average flow of traffic. That is why all fifty states have enacted laws addressing the proper use of the left lane.
How to Correctly Use the Left Lane
Every state makes a distinction between “passing” and “traveling” in the left lane. You can look up the laws of your state here.
In general, you are considered to be “passing” if you drive in the left lane only long enough to get around a slower-moving vehicle. Eleven states specifically say that you can only drive in the left lane while passing. If you live in one of them and a police car happens to be driving behind you, you’d better put on your turn signal and move back to the right lane as soon as you’ve passed the slower car. If you don’t, you can be ticketed for “traveling in the left lane” – even if you are not exceeding the speed limit!
Twenty-nine states have laws that say that you “should” travel in the right lane. Does that give you free reign to “travel” in the left lane then? No, because even if the law doesn’t explicitly prohibit you from doing so, an officer can still give you a ticket if he feels that you’re interfering with the flow of traffic – which is not as subjective a call as you might think. If cars are passing you on the right, then you are interfering with the flow of traffic – even if you are driving the speed limit. So if you want to avoid a ticket yourself, you need to move out of the left lane and let faster drivers pass you.
Passing on the right (also called improper passing) is illegal in most states unless the driver in the left lane is turning left. Unfortunately, because they know it’s illegal to do so, many drivers don’t even bother to check to make sure that no one is attempting to pass them before trying to move into the right lane. If you’ve been “traveling” for miles in the left lane, you might have far more to worry about than just a ticket – forcing others to pass you on the right could cause an accident.
Steep Fines and Your Insurance Rates
Everyone knows that they can get a ticket for driving too fast in the left lane. If you’re unlucky enough to be pulled over in the state of Virginia, a speeding ticket can cost you as much as $3,000.
Most people, unfortunately, don’t think about the cost of driving too slow in the left lane. If you obstruct traffic or travel in the left lane, you can get a ticket that in some states can cost as much as $1000. The money that you pay to the traffic court for any moving violation, though, will not be nearly as much as what you pay to your insurance company in the form of increased rates.
If you had a perfect driving record up to that point, be prepared for an even bigger shock when your policy renews. Most companies offer a substantial discount for good drivers that you’ll no longer be eligible for once the moving violation is recorded at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Remember that the main rule that makes the Autobahn successful can also help you keep your money in the bank – do most of your driving in the right lane.