"SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT." Signs like this and its closely related cousin ("KEEP RIGHT EXCEPT TO PASS") are posted on highways around the country. The messages might seem like mere suggestions to drivers, but increasingly they're representative of traffic laws that can result in fines of up to $1,000 if they're not obeyed.
MIT research indicates that most states already have laws on the books that ban slow-moving traffic from the left lane, also known as the passing lane. But such laws are often somewhat vague, and they're rarely enforced.
This week, however, Indiana passed what's known as a "slowpoke" law, which specifically permits law enforcement to pull over and ticket drivers if they are in the left lane holding up faster-moving traffic behind them. The fine for violating the rule maxes out at $500, though in most cases the penalty will be much less severe.
The rule in Indiana will start being enforced in July, exactly one year after Georgia police received the right to hand out tickets thanks to a similar "slowpoke" law. According to the Indianapolis Star, Georgia State Police have issued 310 tickets for slowpoke violations since last July. Drivers face a maximum fine of $1,000 for breaking the law, though authorities have discretion as to the exact amount. Generally speaking, a driver who is holding up a long line of traffic in the left lane for an extended period of time is more likely to be ticketed—and penalized more severely.
Police insist that the law doesn't favor speeders over slower drivers. "If someone is going 75 (mph) and someone behind them comes up at 90, we are going after the guy going 90," one Indiana state police captain told the Star.
Still, drivers can theoretically be ticketed if they are driving the speed limit while hogging the left lane. New Jersey's stay-right law, which mandates that drivers get out of the left or middle lane to make way for faster-moving vehicles, resulted in more than 4,000 citations in 2012. The cost of fines doubled in 2013 in the Garden State as well, and now max out at $300.
Other states have slightly different slowpoke laws in which only drivers going well under the speed limit can be ticketed. In 2013, for instance, Florida passed a slowpoke rule that allowed police to issue fines of up to $60 to drivers who are in the left lane going 10 mph or more below the speed limit and fail to get out of the way of faster-moving traffic.
The goal of these and other slowpoke laws is to reserve the left lane for faster cars, so that traffic flows smoothly and vehicles have no need to rapidly switch lanes left and right to pass. The laws should hopefully ease road rage too: In a recent survey from Expedia, tailgaters and left lane hogs were tied for second place in terms of practices on the road that aggravated drivers most. Texting behind the wheel was the most aggravating habit of all, no matter what lane the driver is in.