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Oklahoma lawmakers attempt to set further restrictions on motorists who linger in left lanes

The Kirkpatrick Turnpike on the north side of Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
The Kirkpatrick Turnpike on the north side of Oklahoma City.

Some state lawmakers say it’s time to limit how long vehicles can drive in the left lane.

While state law already generally forbids vehicles from driving in that lane except to overtake and pass a vehicle, House Bill 3452 seeks to place a maximum limit on how long people can linger there and take to pass each other.

Under the measure, tractor trailers have two minutes to pass while smaller vehicles like cars and pickups would only have one.

“The ultimate goal is to cut down on the road rage, and so if left lane violations are a significant contributor to that, we want to cut those down and bring down the road rage and keep people safe,” said. Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, the measure’s author.

Boatman said the state has seen a rise in road rage incidents. The primary causes of those are merge problems and people impeding traffic flow in the left lane, he said.

“People get mad because somebody pokes along in front of them or cuts them off,” he said.

He said Oklahoma law enforcement writes about 80,000 speeding tickets a year, but only issues about 50 left lane violation tickets.

Boatman said law enforcement officers told him there’s not an objective definition of what left lane impeding is. Enforcement by county varies, he said.

He said the measure drops the fine for left lane violators from $550 to $250.

“There’s no officer out there that wants to give somebody a $550 ticket with the exception of people parking in handicapped spots. That one you can feel good about,” Boatman said.

He said estimates indicate that it should only take about 30 seconds for a car to execute a passing maneuver and about twice that for a semi.

“This just sets in place some objective parameters so that if they feel like there’s a violation and do write the ticket, they have the ability to back it up,” Boatman said.

Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, said he was pulled over and issued a warning for driving too long in the left lane. He said he had passed another driver and waited a few miles to get back over.

Lepak said he voted against the measure because it adds an additional requirement to an existing prohibition.

“At some point, we need to let human beings exercise their judgment,” he said.

But Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, said he supports the bill because law enforcement can’t write those tickets because prosecutors won’t file cases. Ford said that’s because there’s not a timeframe in state law. He also likes that it reduces the fine by $350.

Ford, who previously worked 13 years as a Tulsa police officer, said he was traveling to the Capitol on Monday when he encountered a pickup pulling a large trailer that impeded the left lane for miles and miles.

A trooper happened to be following behind, Ford said.

“Finally after about eight minutes, he lit them (his lights) up and pulled him over,” Ford said. “I don’t know if he received a ticket or not, but he was just impeding the flow of traffic.”

The bill, which passed 70-23 on Monday, heads to the Senate.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Janelle Stecklein is editor of Oklahoma Voice. An award-winning journalist, Stecklein has been covering Oklahoma government and politics since moving to the state in 2014.
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