Following this week’s announcement by MOTI Minister Todd Stone, that the BC Government plans to go ahead with long-awaited Keep Right Except to Pass legislation, Transit Police Chief and Chair of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police traffic subcommittee Neil Dubord was quoted in The Vancouver Sun on Wednesday, doing a back pedal of sorts. On one hand he admitted that the chiefs have asked for the legislation in the past, and they have – going back 20 years or more; but then he said some confusing things which make one wonder if people like him aren’t part of the problem on BC roads.

The Vancouver Sun reported, “Police waded into the debate Tuesday, saying drivers are still expected to follow the speed limit and officers are only interested in ticketing motorists whose speed falls below the limit and who impede the movement of traffic in the left passing lane.” Dubord added, “…speed kills.”

A few things come to mind:

  • Saying that officers won’t be ticketing those motorists (Dubord was later heard on CBC radio saying just that), who occupy the PASSING lanes unnecessarily if they happen to be doing the speed limit, is in direct contradiction to the announcement by the Minister. The issue with the current keep right legislation is that it’s unenforceable if the motorist is in the passing lane going travelling with the flow. “Flow” happens to usually be over the limit so to announce that you wanted the legislation more specific so you could charge left lane loafers and then say that it’s ok to be there if they’re doing the limit is just plain dumb. The operative verb, by the way, is “PASSING”.
  • While we understand the conundrum that Keep Right Except to Pass presents for law enforcement types in Dubord’s position who’ve spent years justifying their livelihoods, with the simplistic phrase “speed kills”; it’s not helpful to be contradicting the minister and going lame when you are about to get what you claim you’ve been asking for.
  • While highway speed limits are improperly set in BC, in some cases with high numbers of noncompliance, it follows logically that those doing the speed limit in the left hand lane will interrupt traffic flow which is dangerous.

While we understand the nuances Dubord’s getting at in the article, he cannot ignore the massive support of this legislation.  A CBC poll (CBC radio listeners usually aren’t fans of SENSE BC, so this is even more surprising) has support at 81% (5600 out of 7005 votes, and some 992 total comments).  We would not have been surprised to find support in the ~40% range given the “speed kills” message we’ve all heard for years, but 81% is an overwhelming number.

This story has been picked up nationally and we’ve done numerous interviews across the country.  Interest nationally for Keep Right Except to Pass rules echoes these results.

Ultimately though, the issue goes back to the flow of traffic – not the posted speed limit.  If the majority of traffic is moving at a given speed, one who is at or below that speed shouldn’t be in the left lane.

In fact, there is no excuse for left lane occupation on a multi-lane highway unless:

  1. There is unusual congestion necessitating use of the passing lane,
  2. The user is or is in the process of passing vehicle(s) on the right, or,
  3. The user is about to execute a left hand turn (within a reasonable distance).

Although this is anecdotal, one doesn’t need to look far to see examples of why left lane occupation is dangerous. We recently heard a doctor on the radio who regularly transports patients code-3 between hospitals in the Fraser Valley and he had numerous issues of left-lane-blockers refusing to move or being unaware of the emergency vehicle. Tacitly encouraging drivers to be self enforcers of the speed limit surely contributes to this sort of behavior and adds to the potential for road rage.


Click to enlarge

It goes without saying that Chief Dubord doesn’t want to or can’t condone speeding, but the fact is many roads have the majority of traffic technically speeding and we know most people either aren’t aware of it or won’t admit it. For example, this data for Hwy 1 near Cowichan: ONLY 4% of traffic was below the speed limit of 90 km/h. The median (middle) speed was 16 km/h ABOVE posted (106 vs. 90) and the biggest group of drivers was going 110-120.  Anyone in the left lane at the speed limit is going to be an issue.  Whether they are responsible or not is of little consolation to an innocent person injured or killed as a result of an incident caused by another’s mistake or irrational behaviour.

Just as good drivers always signal their intention to turn, good drivers should obey the keep right rule. Raise your driving bar and make it a habit. The attitude of drivers who maintain the left lane despite all the traffic backing up behind them is that they own the moral high ground and THEIR driving is a right, not a privilege as “speeders” are often told.  This surely does not add up.

People who park themselves in one lane are all-to-often not actively driving, rather they are on auto pilot. They don’t need to be aware of their surroundings, they don’t need to know what is going on except in the lane in front of them: 30 degrees of vision, not 360 degrees. These types of drivers are not good drivers and they shouldn’t be told they are doing the right thing.  This is why they are blocking ambulances going code-3.

Unless you are a police officer, it is not your job to enforce the limit. Parking yourself in the left lane to enforce your perception of the speed limit isn’t the solution, rather it is the problem. You don’t own the moral high ground, if you are doing this.  It is all of our jobs to be courteous, cooperative, and – above all – engaged while driving.

Raise your driving game, help other drivers including those who may be going slower (even including heavy vehicles who need to pass slower heavy vehicles, and drivers who are obviously less competent) and Keep Right Except to Pass.

Our congratulations to Minister Todd Stone for doing the right thing for drivers by understanding a problem which affects most of us on the roadways (81% it seems) and for keeping his promise to act on it.