This was authored by Ian Tootill and originally published by The Vancouver Sun on June 23rd 2014. On July 2, 2014 Minister of Transportation Todd Stone announced the results of the BC Rural Highway Speed Review which included concerns by survey participants regarding poor lane discipline on BC highways. Additionally, he promised legislation and enforcement to address Left Lane Bandits.
Now is the time for the evolution of lane discipline on BC highways. Summer means more travelers, including recreation vehicles, trucks pulling boats, and everything from two wheelers to big rigs. Washington State has recently announced a crackdown on Left Lane Bandits. Soon we should expect news concerning the recommendations resulting from the BC Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review which was launched in late 2013 by the provincial government.
Left Lane Bandits are a scourge on BC Roads because they endanger other drivers by interrupting traffic flow, frustrating otherwise law-abiding drivers, causing unnecessary and potentially dangerous lane changes and increasing crash risk. They render roads inefficient by increasing travel time, complicate matters for emergency vehicles, and they can be at the root of road rage and aggressive driving.
This menace is represented in two subsets; those who do not know better and those who do. While the former exhibit a type of negligence or distracted driving which may be remedied by education and awareness; the latter is sometimes pathological and anti-social through their behaviour. For them, laws and enforcement are necessary.
Public perception in BC, of the role of speed in crashes, has been shaped by years of speed kills propaganda and aggregated statistics. Most speed-related crashes have a host of other factors underlying them. Keeping the left lane clear won’t make our roads less safe – but it will make them safer.
Drivers, who interrupt traffic flow (whether fast or slow), increase speed variance and force vehicle interactions which result in other drivers having to make a minimum of two lane changes to avoid them. One driver interrupting flow can cause dozens, if not hundreds, of additional and unnecessary interactions on the very highways which are designed for safety by minimizing interactions. As vehicle interactions rise, so too does the risk of collision.
In some countries, not only is it illegal to camp out in the passing lane but passing on the right is against the law. In those countries, not coincidentally, it’s commonplace to find drivers helping each other by anticipating the needs of fellow motorists by watching their mirrors and yielding on time; all with the common goal of keeping traffic moving and flowing smoothly. This good behaviour fosters a sense of teamwork on those roads.
Not so in BC. Why? In our opinion, better driver training and testing, as well as clearer messaging, could turn around a confrontational driving element we seem to have on BC roads. ICBC, past and current BC Governments and police have historically focussed on speeding as the demon on BC highways, supporting “speed is killing us” ads by issuing hundreds of thousands of tickets per year for which the majority are speed related offences. Ironically, while slow drivers, and those who disrupt traffic flow, are frequently cited as the number one concern by the driving majority, police seldom ticket motorists for impeding traffic. And, why would they when the applicable section of BC’s Motor Vehicle Act is so vague that the courts have not supported convictions for the charge?
Why have successive BC Governments refused to change the law? Several reasons come to mind including congestion near urban areas, fear of diluting “speed kills” messaging by tacitly endorsing speeding in left lanes, not wanting more laws (although this government loves laws) and too much work to do it. We can do better and we should do better.
Notwithstanding all of the above, here are the reasons why the BC Government should deal with Left Lane Bandits decisively: 1) Left Lane Bandits pose a danger, an annoyance to other drivers, they cause road rage and reduce efficiency of expensive infrastructure. 2) Other countries and other states, including those with significantly higher highway speed limits than BC, have laws which specify passing only on the left while prohibiting passing on the right, and we should too. 3) While education and awareness may work for some, legislation and enforcement are the only way to deal with the anti-social / pathological element on our highways. 4) Dealing with them sends a positive message from government that it is finally serious about curbing the bad behaviour which concerns the majority of motorists.
Ian Tootill is Co-Founder of SENSE BC, a grassroots drivers’ advocacy group. www.sensebc.org