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Are ‘left lane squatters’ only a West Michigan problem?

Michigan State Police posts in Rockford and Lakeview launch ‘Operation Southpaw’ to educate that left lane is for passing, not general travel for slow left lane drivers

Cartoon by Rob Tornoe

Cartoon by Rob Tornoe

Michigan State Police Troopers from the Rockford and Lakeview posts are targeting “left lane squatters” in West Michigan during March and April.

This is a great idea because drivers who “park” themselves by driving way too slow in the left lane create a dangerous situation for themselves and all the irritated drivers around them.  This causes traffic backups and lots of car accidents when drivers try to maneuver to get around these left-lane slow poke drivers.

Earlier this month, the MSP launched “Operation Southpaw,” which will focus on educating – and possibly ticketing – drivers about “left lane squatting,” i.e., using the left lane for “general travel” rather than only for “passing” as the lanes are intended, reports Fox 17’s Doug Reardon. Noting that “left lane squatting” is and always has been “illegal,” Fox 17’s Reardon quotes a press release from the Rockford MSP Post’s 1st Lt. Chris McIntire:

“[T]he main reason for the initiative is to educate drivers who don’t know that the left lane is reserved for the passing motorist … [D]riving slow in the left lane is disruptive to traffic flow and can be dangerous, as frustrated motorists attempt risky moves to get around the offending driver.”

I get to “enjoy” driving around these left lane squatters when I’m driving to our Michigan Auto Law Grand Rapids office. I just hope that when the MSP is done making the world safe from West Michigan’s  “left lane squatters,” these Troopers will turn their attention to the rest of Michigan. May I suggest the highways of metro Detroit next?

What is Michigan’s ‘left lane’ law?

As the basis for the Michigan State Police’s “Southpaw Initiative,” the Michigan Vehicle Code has very specific rules for drivers’ use of the left lane on Michigan highways and freeways:

  • The “driver of a vehicle shall drive [his or her] vehicle upon the right half of the roadway except … when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same directions …” (MCL 257.634(1)(a))
  • “Upon a roadway having 2 or more lanes for travel in 1 direction, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the vehicle in the extreme right-hand lane available for travel …” (MCL 257.634(2))
  • “When a roadway has been divided into 2 or more clearly marked lanes for traffic … [a] vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the operator has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety. Upon a roadway with 4 or more lanes that provides for 2-way movement of traffic, a vehicle shall be operated within the extreme right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing, but shall not cross the center line of the roadway except where making a left turn.” (MCL 257.642(1)(a))

Michigan State Police – ‘Driving in the left lane when not passing’

On its “Traffic Laws FAQs” page, the Michigan State Police states the following:

Q. Is it against the law to drive in the left lane when not passing another vehicle?”

A. Here’s what MCL 257.634 has to say about lane driving. If the road has two or more lanes in one direction, vehicles shall be driven in the extreme right-hand lane. If all lanes are occupied by vehicles moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic then a driver can use any lane available. A driver may also use the left lane for a reasonable distance when preparing for a left turn. On a freeway having 3 or more lanes, a driver may use any lane lawfully available. MCL 257.642 gives further direction and states in part,  “…Upon a roadway with 4 or more lanes which provides for 2-way movement of traffic, a vehicle shall be driven within the extreme right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing, but shall not cross the center line of the roadway except where making a left turn.”

Related info:

Merging in traffic: Who has the right of way in Michigan? 

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