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Ban on slow drivers in the fast lane watered down to irrelevance by Nevada Legislature

It was another morning commute, northbound on Interstate 15 headed for downtown Las Vegas. A smattering of cars in the fast lane came up quickly behind a big-rig truck, the driver of which, abjuring the other two lanes, stubbornly hewed to the left.

One by one, faster-moving cars changed lanes, passed the truck, and quickly dove back into the left-hand, swiftly leaving the slow-moving offender in the rear-view mirror. The driver, either ignorant of the effect he was having on other traffic or indifferent to it, continued on.

Just another day on the Las Vegas freeways, where the motto is, “To thine own self be true … and screw everybody else!”

I understand there are reasons a big-rig might have to use the left lane: To pass another slow-moving truck, for example, or to access the express lanes that offer a quicker ride past the Strip. But on this particular day, there were no other trucks nearby, and the express lanes were miles away.

Yet not a day goes by when I don’t see slower-moving vehicles — FedEx trucks are the ironic and most common offenders — slouching into the fast lane and forcing cars to maneuver around them.

Each time, I think, “There ought to be a law.”

And there almost was!

In fact, there were two, one introduced by Republican Assemblymen Chris Edwards of Las Vegas and another by John Ellison of Elko, that would have said “a driver may not continue to operate a motor vehicle in the extreme left lane if the driver knows, or reasonably should know, that he or she is being overtaken in that lane from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed.”

Alas, the bills ran into trouble almost immediately, with this salient counter-argument: If a driver is traveling at the speed limit, how could he or she reasonably be issued a citation for impeding traffic, when the other drivers — by definition — were breaking the law by traveling faster than the speed limit?

My personal answer: If you’re going the speed limit (it’s 65 mph in the zone I described) but everybody else is going faster, then you are the problem. Speed up to match the flow of traffic or change lanes and yield to faster drivers, regardless of the posted limit. This helps prevent drivers from making the frequent lane changes that increase the potential for accidents.

(And yes, I am aware that the Nevada Department of Transportation recently changed the speed limit on some sections of Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada to 80 mph. If they want to study how 80 mph works in Southern Nevada, they’re welcome to ride with me for a couple days!)

Sadly, however, the Edwards/Ellison legislation met an all-too-familiar fate: Gelding by indifference and/or amendment.

Edwards’s version of the law failed to pass by the first legislative deadline, and the Assembly Transportation Committee watered down Ellison’s law to the point of irrelevance.

Now, it says a driver can’t drive in the left lane “if the driver knows, or reasonably should know, that he or she is traveling at a rate of speed which is less than the posted speed limit … and is being overtaken in that lane from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed.”

In other words, if you’re going at least the speed limit, you can hog the fast lane all day, forcing a platoon of cars to move around you, and there are no legal consequences. This version fails to accomplish the purpose of the original bill, and will be only marginally useful in that narrow slice of cases involving a person actually driving less than the posted limit.

Thanks for nothing, Legislature.

I realize it’s hard to legislate common rules of the road that we should all have been taught in driving school (“slow traffic keep right”). But until we do (or raise the speed limit to 80 on all Nevada freeways), we’ll continue to see slow-lane hogs.

There ought to be a law.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5276. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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