This week St. John Alexander at CTV News produced an excellent two part feature entitled “Left Lane Bandits” describing one of the most annoying and dangerous creatures on BC highways. The news piece caused quite a buzz on various social media sites. Drivers who camp out in passing lanes on multi-lane highways are not only breaking the law and infuriating drivers who they prevent from passing, but they are also dangerous.

While the role of speed as a cause of crashes is frequently up for debate, there is less question that speed variance (between vehicles) can raise crash probability. There is a bell curve of speed normalcy on all unobstructed roads and when just one driver becomes the outlier, there is not only an increase in speed variance but that driver can cause a series of reactions affecting many other drivers, as well as potentially their passengers. Every time a driver must change lanes to get around a vehicle, there are a minimum of two potential interactions increasing the probability of a crash. One inconsiderate driver could literally cause hundreds, or thousands (depending on trip length) of additional interactions between vehicles that would never have happened had he/she chosen to keep right.

There are generally two types of individuals who participate in bad driving (AKA Left Lane Bandits): those who don’t know better, and those who do know better and are generally quite deliberate in their actions. Neither of them should be driving and both have been tacitly encouraged over the years by the BC Government, ICBC, and the police − whose virtually single-minded focus has been to go after a broad swath of speeding under the guise of bad or aggressive driving. The dopes who bumble along in the passing lane because they see there’s less traffic in it (for a reason) and the self-appointed speed police who deliberately and maliciously block traffic, have flown virtually under the radar for your government.  As part two of the CTV story mentioned, there’s been 31 charges in five years in BC for impeding traffic. When you realize there are generally between 200,000 and 400,000 tickets issued per year in BC for traffic offences, it’s pretty clear where the emphasis is… not.

Why is that? For starters, successive governments have been on a mission to convince us that “speed is killing us” and it’s not a stretch to believe that many who believe that misinformation might see any kind of focus to free up lanes for vehicles to travel faster as a bit of mixed message. A sort of suck and blow if you will. Nobody wants a mixed message after all. Propaganda does work and they know it. ICBC’s Traffic Research dept found in 1990 in an attitude survey that “The issue seen as the greatest concern was slow drivers. Almost 85% of the drivers felt that slow drivers were occasionally, very frequently or always a problem. Almost 50% considered slow drivers as frequently or always a concern.”

In April, 1995 an ICBC “Speed Attitudes” public opinion survey found that “53% of residents [agree] that slow moving vehicles are more of a safety hazard than fast moving vehicles,”  This is further corroborated by a September, 1995, BCAA survey which found that “over one-half of members (57%) feel that slow-moving vehicles are more of a safety hazard than fast-moving ones, and that posted speed limits don’t mean much (54%).” This is what they found while they were attempting to ram photo radar down our throats by overstating the role of speed in crashes.

Once photo radar became the agenda, they completely stopped asking about slow drivers and the surveys that once reported 50-85% concern about slow drivers were now reporting nothing − zero percent.  The other major change was the attitude seen in ICBC and the government’s messages: from a nod to courtesy and cooperation to an us-vs-them mentality.  “Them” being the reckless speeders causing all the mayhem − which in reality was about 2/3rd’s of the motoring public when you looked at the predicted photo radar ticketing rates.

Back to Keep Right Except to Pass. Kevin Falcon who served as Minister of Transportation and Highways for several years, was bright enough to understand when we told him “Slower Traffic Keep Right” signs on BC highways were meaningless and ineffective and he ordered them to be replaced with the more direct “Keep Right Except To Pass” signs.

In spite of the fact that the police had been on record in the past asking for legislation to charge slow drivers and that at least one senior RCMP traffic officer assuring us he would order a ticketing blitz if we got the legislation, in spite of the fact that there are laws which are enforced all over the rest of the world for failing to keep right, your elected representative’s appointees have done nothing.

Kash Heed during his brief stint as Solicitor General, a former cop himself got it (or seemed to), but the issue died on the vine three conference calls into it with Superintendent of Motor Vehicles Steve Martin whose explanation for not wanting to act on the issue (beside the fact that it did not fit into his agenda) was that we could not produce nor could he find empirical evidence that such a specific law may have a proven safety benefit. Funny, he’s had no issue with other laws that have scant safety benefit either (the almost completely ineffective hand held device ban comes to mind). At least in the case of enforcing some lane discipline, we know the outcome would not be a new breed of driver staring at his or her crotch instead of the road.

While some in Victoria view some of the SMV’s accomplishments, such as Administrative Law enabling defacto on the spot convictions for various offences by police while thwarting due process, as progressive we think some of his ideas are a little over the top and trample rights while ultimately hurting the cause. Steve Martin, when it comes to driving, either pretends that he’s never driven outside of Victoria or he never has driven outside of Victoria.  Would you want someone indifferent to children responsible for teaching your kids? Either way, why on earth do we have people with no passion or little in depth knowledge of driving responsible for these ministries? Shirley Bond anyone?

BC is at an inflection point in our opinion; it’s got a resource industry and farming history which requires large heavy trucks and residents and visitors who enjoy their holidays towing campers and boats. These vehicles understandably need to travel slower because they are less maneuverable and take longer to stop. On the other hand, BC’s had successive governments who understood the importance of transportation infrastructure and have invested in world class roads and highways. It’s got relatively wealthy residents, visitors and immigrants who see how the rest of the world travels and they’ve got the money to do it. So we’ve got many different needs, types of vehicles and driving skill levels. Admittedly it’s a challenge to accommodate everybody and get them to behave. Notwithstanding, for many of those people in the latter group our speed limits are seen as amusing or infuriating annoyances.

Economist and co-founder of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Charles A. Lave, said it well, “Guided by the limit-rationale, police concentrate on those drivers who exceed the legal speed, and tend to ignore those drivers who disrupt coordination by traveling much slower than the norm.”

In many countries, it’s not only illegal to occupy the left lane for anything other than passing, but it’s illegal to pass on the right. Too many states to mention here are now enforcing those laws and there are also laws forcing slow moving vehicles to use pull outs. For the sake of minimizing speed variance, improving safety and improving the overall driving experience BC should do the same.

CTV’s “Left Lane Bandits” Part One:
CTV’s “Left Lane Bandits” Part Two: