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Is It Illegal to Drive in the Left Lane?

driving in the left lane

You may have never questioned it until now – is it illegal to drive in the left lane?

Most of the time, yes. Usually, the left lane is for passing, not driving.

So, if you enjoy life in the fast lane, you might want to think twice about spending too much time there.

The Left Lane Is for Passing

The restrictions and penalties for left-lane driving vary among the 50 states, but almost every state limits driving in the left lane to passing, merging or exiting. Fines for violations range from $50 to $500. Many states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code, which requires drivers to keep right if they are going slower than the normal speed of traffic.

Drivers in all states are permitted to use the left lane for passing when there is more than one car traveling in the same direction. Most states, though, don’t allow left lane access for slow moving vehicles that give no indication of passing or turning.

If you’re interested, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has compiled a list of “keep right” laws in each state.

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Why Left-Lane Driving Is Illegal

The reasons behind limiting left-lane driving vary, but most have to do with safety and efficiency, as well as reducing aggressive driving. While not specifically taking a position on left-lane driving, AAA recommends slower traffic keep to the right and all motorists should drive at a speed consistent with the specified limit as well as roadway conditions.

“In general, when people travel slowly in the left lane, that can lead to frustration among drivers who might be lined up behind them,” said Alec Slatky, managing director of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast.

In one AAA study, drivers who rated their speed as faster than other drivers were more likely than others to report engaging in aggressive driving behavior.

If drivers populate the left lanes, faster drivers wind up changing lanes more frequently, weaving around them, which can be a safety hazard. Driver frustration can also lead to other risky behaviors, such as tailgating or passing a car on the right. Passing on the right can be extremely dangerous because of the traffic flow, blind spots and cars entering and exiting from the right side.

is it illegal to drive in the left lane

Stay in Your Lane

Chances are, during your daily travels, you’ll encounter people driving faster than you, even if they are not supposed to. Freeing up the left lane leaves room for emergency vehicles, avoids traffic backups and enables people to get to their destinations faster.

“We’re not looking for police to be writing lots of tickets for people traveling slowly in the left lane – we’re hoping that people will follow best practices,” said Slatky. “It’s also generally better if everyone follows the same standard – people pass on the left, rather than the right. When you behave in a way that others expect on the road, that lowers everybody’s risk.”

What are your thoughts on left-lane driving? Tell us in the comments.


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59 Thoughts on “Is It Illegal to Drive in the Left Lane?

  1. PLEASE stay out of the left lane, especially during the 10 pm to 7 am hours. As a driver who works those hours, I have had 6 wrong-way drivers come pass me on the highway. These are drivers heading North on the Southbound lanes, for example. They are almost always in the left lane. Whether disorientated by age, medical condition, or drug/alcohol impairment, it will not matter if they hit you head-on.

  2. I wish AAA would bring back a yearly show they use to show. It was a quiz / test type program about driving and road rules.
    My family watched it together and recorded our answers. When the program was over we would talk about our answers.
    We have no fatalities in our 9-person unit, and only 1 accident during a snowstorm. I believe this would help now and for future drivers.

  3. “I live in the northeast and commute on Rt. 128/95 during early mornings and late afternoons. The roads are jam-packed with cars, most of which are speeding. However, if everyone followed the traffic rules and maintained a safe distance from the car ahead, it would be okay. But there are some drivers who insist on driving slowly in the left lane, causing chaos on the road. This forces other drivers to make dangerous moves like passing from the right or even driving on the breakdown lane. I don’t understand why these slow drivers choose to drive in the left lane, but they’re a hazard on the road and should be penalized for making driving conditions perilous.”

  4. Traffic violation drive me crazy, and I admit I’m a guilty person too. But I am convinced that every driver should be required to repeat and pass the written driver test every few years as a requirement to receive a renewed license. I believe this would raise awareness and reduce accidents.

  5. I drive on interstate 93 in Massachusetts and everyone is speeding except when a state trooper is parked on roadside . I agree that too few people merge properly with every other car rule . I can never get over having cars cut in front of me so close as I leave space in front of my car and don’t tailgate others . I am lucky to be alive .

  6. Do they teach the simple phrase in driver education classes, “Keep Right Except To Pass”?

    I think some people that drive in the left lane at or below the speed limit were never taught the phrase above and/or are oblivious to other drivers. Others are trying to doing it to aggravate people or are “helping to keep speeding down”.

    Other pet peeves are the people that don’t yield when merging on the highway. Is this another driver’s ed issue? How about the red light runners? If the light is red for only two seconds, its okay to run it, right? I think these last two issues apply to “entitled” people who think those things don’t apply to them, luxury SUV required per my observations!

  7. Then there are people who enter the highway on the RHS, travel at a speed less than what the traffic is moving, and quickly move to the center lane even if there is no traffic in the right hand lane. Is this to avoid entering cars that will be entering from entrances ahead? This causes traffic to slow down. Frustrated drivers then pass them on both the left and right and both may try to switch to the center lane once they have passed the slower car. I prefer either the right or left lane because I only have one side to pay extra attention to. And yes, if in the left hand lane, either stay with the flow of traffic or move to the center lane.

    In all cases, pay attention as to who is around you so you aren’t surprised.

  8. I live in Massachusetts and driving in the passing lane seems to be the norm. Yes, they are passing but they stay in that lane even after they could pull into the travel lane So there is a lot of passing on the right. Once a few years ago my son was cited with a ticket for staying in the passing lane. A State Police Officer cited him, That is NOT a travel lane. So, be warned and use it as it was intended.

  9. A problem arises when I am driving in the left lane, passing car after car in the right lane and other drivers tailgate me, expecting me to get out of the way so that they can go even faster. Do they expect me to weave in and out of traffic to let them pass when they come along?

    1. @Karl –
      As long as your vehicle is safely moving from left to right (to allow the faster car to pass you) and then moving back into the left lane if you wish to pass, this does not constitute “weaving in and out of traffic” in an unsafe way. That’s actually how it should work!

    2. If you’re in the left lane, and no one is in front of you and someone is behind you wanting to pass, get out of the way and let them pass you. Common sense.

      1. I think what the issue is that I am passing-using the PASSING lane to pass, but the person behind me wants me to pass FASTER than I am. Then I signal, to show I intend to get over after passing but the person behind me might swoop around to my right, preventing me from getting over. So now they say, “I had to pass on the right because they were going slow ( meaning not speeding as fast) in the passing lane” . Or another scenario ,as the other person says, I am passing and plan to pass the next car as well , but again I’m not going as fast as the person behind me thinks I should be going. So then I do wind up “weaving back and forth” trying to get out of the way of the tailgaters, but also wanting to excercise my right to pass cars that are going more slowly than I.

  10. I see way too many drivers crawling in the left who appear oblivious to the practice of foreging that lane. Equally frustrating are slow-medium speed trucks in the left, especially on two-lane roads where it’s really diffficult to get around them.

  11. I have probably said it here in the past. Road rage is a two part problem – those who cause it and those who exhibit it. If you are driving too slow in the left lane, you are causing it and tempting someone else to exhibit it. If we solve the first part of the problem, the second part never happens.

    1. Just wondering do you and others like you mean too slow as in actually too slow, like driving less than the speed limit or going more slowly than the ones n the right. I don’t like that either. Or by “too slow” you mean they aren’t speeding as fast as you like to? I have been passing cars and been tailgated by people who feel I am not passing “fast enough”. Too bad- I’m passing at 70 not 80.

  12. I’ve driven all over the world and the US has some of the least disciplined drivers. In Germany the left lane is for passing or for 100+ mph. Here in the US it’s for whatever and I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone getting pulled over for left lane infractions. As for passing on the right, it used to be illegal but it’s now a necessity with so many hogs in the left lane. I frequently just ride the far right lane because there is nobody in it!

  13. Many of the comments are from people who live in the Northeast and I agree with most of the comments. This is a law not upheld by the state police or the local police. The mass number of vehicles probably makes them pragmatic in their approach to this situation. I will pass on the right if people do not move over and just sit there. Our depraved nature makes us only think of ourselves in all situations and not of others. This is probably the biggest moral problem in our society and why we are decaying so rapidly!

  14. We were always taught to use left lane to pass and not to pass on the right. Unfortunately while traveling on the highways now the new slow lane is the far left lane. Each state is unique for its traffic. I wish people would be able to read and follow the speed limit here in NC. It’s so frustrating to be going 30 in a 45 mph zone

  15. Unfortunately I have driven in the left lane frequently. ☹️ But this is because of the condition that the local highway in my hometown is in. The right lane has been so bad that it is almost unsafe to drive. 🙁 At times there were potholes that could fit two people comfortably, which wasn’t comfortable driving over!
    The state highway department has been trying to fix it for years and some sections of this interstate have been rebuilt. However, the left lane has been the one I’ve had to revert to just to get to my destination.

  16. OMG, if could write pages and pages on the moronic drivers making up their own rules of the road.
    Left lane hogs are bad, but not as dangerous as those in the right lane braking to make room for the drivers who are entering the highway/parkway refusing to yield to those in the travel lanes with the right of way.
    And do not get me started on how many drivers, from professional truck drivers to newbies who cannot remember what was taught to them concerning merging. A very simple concept with just two rules. Do not merge until you run out of lane and then, like a zipper, every other vehicle. I cannot not tell you how infuriating it is that people think they know more than the engineers who designed the roads and the rules.

  17. As most New York State drivers know, our roads, particularly state roads, are in horrible condition. On the really bad sections of road, it’s usually the right lane that has the most potholes and other defects, making it almost necessary to drive in the left lane to avoid flat tires, and excessive wear to our vehicles. Consider that when you’re stuck behind a slower vehicle on a bad road. It’s probably just a driver trying to save their car.

  18. I have a problem with people driving in the fast/passing lane and doing the speed limit or under. I have seen first-hand that it frustrates people and they instead speed around the vehicle and sometimes, even more lanes to get ahead. This to me is more dangerous. Slow riders should be ticketed for holding up passers or faster vehicles. I get upset when they are not even doing the speed limit but driving under it. This tells me that the person is doing it on purpose to irritate others. Hence, why some tailgate and accidents happen. I personally can’t stand tailgating. I am too afraid of being in an accident.

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