Traffic Tuesday: When to Drive in the Left Lane


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – It’s a situation almost everyone has been in; you are in a hurry, and you get held up by someone driving slowly– so you switch over to the fast lane to pass them. It’s quick and convenient, but if used improperly the left lane can be dangerous.

So what exactly is the purpose of the left lane in a divided highway setting?

“The left lane is allowed for passing only,” explained public information officer for the Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace. “Once you have overtaken that vehicle, then you can move back into the driving lane.” 

What is meant to be the “fast lane” is often anything but, when a surplus of drivers are heading in the same direction at a variety of speeds. When the left lane of a divided highway is congested, it creates the perfect setting for road rage and accidents.

“Especially in the rolling hills that we have around in Southwest Missouri, we may have two vehicles traveling in the same direction and it makes a very dangerous situation,” said Pace.   

Add slow moving vehicles into the mix, and the threat grows even more. Those vehicles should stick to the right lane and shoulder when possible. What if motorists experience a roadside emergency, or get pulled over by police?

“Move over to the right lane, then move over as far right as possible on that shoulder where it’s going to be safer for both you and the officer involved,” said Pace.

Different states have different laws when it comes to the fast lane, but motorists making their way through Missouri should keep in mind that the left hand lane should be used strictly for passing cars driving under the speed limit. It could mean the difference between receiving a traffic violation.

“Driving in the left-hand lane in the state of Missouri is a violation of the law so, if we see that taking place then we can take enforcement action on that,” said Pace.

It is also important to note Missouri’s “Move Over” law when driving on the highways. If an emergency vehicle is stopped on the roadway, it is critical you reduce speed of your vehicle and pull over to the farthest possible lane to leave that blocked lane clear for emergency personnel.  

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