Holding Up Traffic

Dear MOby,

So, I just read in my local paper, the Orange County Register, that you’re legally within your rights if you’re tooling along in the left lane of the freeway with traffic backing up behind you, as long as you’re doing the speed limit. Which I think is mostly 65 mph around here. Is this true? I thought there was a law in California against impeding the flow or something like that? I know it makes it even more dangerous for me on my Street Glide when people make sudden moves to go around drivers going slow in the left lane. Please advise.

Slow Simmer
Brea, California

Right you are, SS, and it’s been on the books long enough you’d think people would know about it, wouldn’t you? Especially people whose job is to investigate things for dissemination to the public. I wrote a column about it in 2002 for Motorcycle.com, and here it is again:

California Vehicle Code 21654
Daily Diatribe
Mar. 20, 2002 

Heck, there just isn’t much pissing me off to write about these days, unfortunately. The race season’s started, the wife hired a gardener, the hole in the boat is fixed, spring is here. If not for George Bush wanting to issue nuclear hand grenades to our troops, I’d be a reasonably content hominid, if I hadn’t been flipping through my new Road & Track and read this letter from one Bob Tindel of beautiful Redlands, California.

The topic–and pardon me for coming back to it again–is deadshits holding up traffic in the left lane of the freeway. Take it away Bob… “I recently retired from 32 years with the California Highway Patrol and have written many tickets for these violations. Unfortunately, a driver moving at the speed limit on a multi-lane freeway is not in violation and has no duty to move over and let traffic pass.”

This sent me in a huff (may have been a minute-and-a-huff) straight to the California Vehicle Code at the local library. I flipped around the index, found passing and overtaking, and spent a total of maybe five minutes in coming to Section 21654–Slow-moving vehicles:

(a) Notwithstanding the prima facie speed limits, any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic… except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(b) If a vehicle is being driven at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time, and is not being driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb, it shall constitute prima facie evidence that the driver is operating the vehicle in violation of subdivision (a) of this section.

(c) The Department of Transportation, with respect to state highways, and local authorities, with respect to highways under their jurisdiction, may place and maintain upon highways official signs directing slow-moving traffic to use the right-hand traffic lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle or preparing for a left turn.

Seems pretty clear to me (except for the “notwithstanding” opening of paragraph (a), which means in spite of, or although–which means never mind the speed limit.) I don’t know whether to blame former-Officer Tindel, or the people who trained him (or failed to), or to crack another Natural Light and cry. I mean, if I can look this up in a few minutes, you’d think at some point during his 32-year career, especially if it bugged him, Officer Tindel might’ve checked it out himself? What do they do during all those gruelling weeks at CHP boot camp anyway? (Personally, I’m picturing a man in a neatly trimmed mustache using a pointer to identify the various members of the donut family. “You’ve got your cruller, your glazed, your cake….”) Apparently they’re not wasting time reading the Vehicle Code.

All I can repeat is what I’ve been told by others sworn to uphold the manifold laws of the land: Ignorance is no excuse.

Most states have a similar law to California’s, which are also widely ignored. On a positive note, I have been seeing more articles like this one in U.S. News and World Report, “Cracking Down on Drivers Holding Up the Left Lane”, so maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. For now, be happy you have a motorcycle and live in the only state where lane splitting is legal. Eternal vigilance is the cost of freedom.

Holding Up Traffic