Our Northwest

Road hogs have plagued us more than 50 years

Wednesday, February 15, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

Workers installing SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT sign on I-5Washington’s lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 5052, which would boost the fine for drivers who hog the left lane on multi-lane highways.

However, the Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the topic Jan. 23, and the fact that no further action has been taken might mean the bill is unlikely to move forward. Bills have until Feb. 24 to get voted out.

Proponents think the bill would give more teeth to Washington’s “Keep right except to pass” law. Road hogs are not a new annoyance for drivers. I recently found an article proving that left-lane campers have vexed local motorists for more than 50 years.

The August 1965 edition of Highway News, from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), includes an article about legislation mandating “Slower traffic keep right.” The new law was designed to “relieve congestion on multi-lane highways” and boost safety.

The Washington State Patrol chief told Highway News that many freeway accidents are caused by speed differential, and safer highways result when vehicles in the left lane travel at the same speed.

The 1965 article went on to say, “Studies show that besides impeding the flow of traffic, slow drivers generate another dangerous effect – frustration. Legal-speed drivers, becoming impatient at being blocked by ‘slow pokes,’ experience a rise in blood pressure, anger and frustration – emotions that can lead to deadly danger on today’s high speed highways.”

Wow. That easily could have been written in 2017.

WSDOT began installing SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT signs in 1965 along all of the state’s multi-lane highways. In the top photo, workers install one on I-5 near the Lakewood-McChord interchange.

Portions of I-5 open in the early 1960s It’s interesting that left-lane campers began annoying Washington motorists almost from the moment our first freeways appeared. Washington’s legislature approved an “Everett-Seattle-Tacoma Superhighway” in 1953, but the freeways we know today trace their lineage to 1956, when the feds approved and funded the Interstate Highway System (technically called the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways).

Portions of I-5 in Seattle opened in the early 1960s (lower photo), with the entire route from the Columbia River to Canada being completed in 1969. So the “Keep right” law of 1965 tells me left-lane campers have vexed at least three generations of drivers.

Photos courtesy of WSDOT, 1962 and 1965

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