Keep right: Left-lane driving causes problems on Mississippi roads

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDA sign on I-10 in Jackson County advises motorists to stay in the right lane unless passing.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDA sign on I-10 in Jackson County advises motorists to stay in the right lane unless passing. SUN HERALD

It's happened to everyone. You're driving along the interstate and the person in front of you is driving below the speed limit. You move into the left lane, only to find the car in front of you pacing the car in the next lane.

The debate over who should or shouldn't use the left lane on interstates, highways and roads with four or more lanes has been playing out in the Sun Herald's Sound Off column and editorial page for a couple of weeks.

The debate started Jan. 22 when a reader's Sound Off said, "Dear left-lane drivers: Move over! You are not supposed to drive slower than everyone else while staying in the left lane."

That reader may not be too far off base, because according to state law, drivers should stick to the right lane as much possible.

"If you are driving in the left lane on a four-laned or more highway and you are not passing someone or not making a left turn," Mississippi Highway Patrol Cpl. Benjamin Seibert said, "you are breaking the law."

Law of the lanes

A law under section 63-3-603 of the Mississippi Code states: "A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety. (b) A vehicle shall not be driven in the center lane upon a roadway which is divided into three (3) lanes except when: (i) Overtaking and passing another vehicle where the roadway is clearly visible and such center lane is clear of traffic within a safe distance; (ii) Such vehicle is in preparation for a left turn; or (iii) Such center lane is at the time allocated exclusively to traffic moving in the direction such vehicle is proceeding and is signposted to give notice of such allocation. (c) Official signs may be erected directing slow-moving traffic to use a designated lane or allocating specified lanes to traffic moving in the same direction, and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such sign."

Not about speeding

Seibert said any debate over whether people are speeding is moot.

"Two wrongs do not make a right," he said. "But just as there are laws regarding the speed limit, there is also a law concerning the left lane. Don't clog up the lane by trying to slow people down; let law enforcement do their job."

Michael Papania of Gulfport, one of several who commented in Sound Off, said drivers slowing down the left lane can be annoying.

"I do get a little upset at people who drive slowly in the left lane, especially on the interstate and beach (road)," he said. "I realize that many people drive over the speed limit, but I feel if the 'flow of traffic' exceeds the limit, a person going slower should pull to the right even if he or she is going the speed limit."

'A real problem'

According to the law, "Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway."

With thousands of people driving I-10 daily, Seibert said, left-lane misuse is an issue.

The law also designates the left lane for use by emergency vehicles.

"If an emergency vehicle comes up behind you with lights and, or sirens on, move out of the way," he said.

Vague wording

The law has some vague language regarding four-laned roads that run "through or bypassing a municipality."

"The bill is not worded well," Gulfport police Sgt. Damon McDaniel said, "but we try to encourage people to use the right lane on Highway 90 and Highway 49.

"You yield to the right. We want people to understand that. That's why there are signs that encourage the slower traffic to stay to the right."

Seibert said citations can be issued for misusing the left lane.

"You could get a ticket for riding in the left lane the same way you could get a ticket for speeding, but it's up to the officer's discretion."

McDaniel also said it's hard to enforce the law.

"We don't write a lot of tickets for this," he said. "But if we found someone disrupting the flow of traffic in the left lane, we would probably stop them and give them a warning."