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Will 'Left Lane for Passing Only' Signs Make a Difference?

Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Here’s a mantra you may repeat to yourself in Austin traffic (likely in-between bouts of profanity): The left lane is for passing only.

Despite the fact that passing on the left is the safest practice (and the fact that Texas has prohibitions against passing on the right), it’s a practice that’s routinely disregarded – just ask any Central Texas motorist.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is trying to do something about that, by installing a little reminder on Texas highways: some 3,400 signs stating “Left Lane for Passing Only.”

Before you get your hopes up, here’s the rub – they’re only going up on highways with speed limits over 75 mph. That excludes Mopac and Interstate 35 as they cut through most of Central Austin.

“It’s hard to do on something like Interstate 35, with all the traffic that’s on it, because there’s only so many traffic lanes,” says Chris Bishop, public information officer for the TXDoT’s Austin district. “But on roads that are 75 or faster – those tend to be more rural, or toll roads, they’re a little more lightly used – and there’s plenty of room for people to move over to the right during speed maneuvers.”

Drivers should definitely be vigilant on those faster roads – like the stretch of toll road State Highway 130 that opened yesterday, which has an 85 mph speed limit. But while I-35 may be congested beyond repair, cruising in the left lane generally poses a danger.

“Engineers generally believe highway travel to be safest when everybody’s traveling at the same speeds,” Bishop says. “A driver who’s traveling in the right lane has his left mirror, and he’s on that side of the car, so it’s easier for him to detect a vehicle that’s overtaking him. And therefore he’s more likely to be aware of it, and safer.”

Cruising in the left lane may cost you too: up to $200 for impeding the flow of traffic.

Have any horror stories of your own about cruisers in the left lane, or speeding passers on the right? Let us hear them in the comments below.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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