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Senate plan would make clogging left lane a ticketable offense

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 13, 2013 at 08:01 AM
TALLAHASSEE -

Picture this: You're in the left lane of the interstate, driving a little below the speed limit, when some guy zips up behind you and swerves past you on the right.

Then you notice the blue lights flashing. You're savoring the satisfaction of seeing a trooper actually nab an aggressive driver — until you realize it's you he's pulling over.

This could happen, if not very often, under a major transportation package expected to be taken up in the Senate Appropriations Committee next week.

Introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, the bill is a 173-page series of technical changes in obscure transportation matters making its way through the Legislature.

This change requires drivers on roads with two or more lanes to keep right except when passing and to get out of the left lane when being overtaken by a faster-moving car. It was added by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens. The idea is similar to the pending ban on texting while driving: It's more about getting people's attention and educating them than about punishing them with tickets, Clemens said.

“We cause all kinds of traffic issues when the left lane is going slower than others,” he said. “We force people to weave in and out of traffic to the right. Many states have laws that say if someone's approaching you from behind, you should move over to the right.”

A driver doing the speed limit and not impeding the normal flow of traffic, on an almost empty road, would not be ticketed, nor would those passing a slower-moving vehicle or slowing to make a left turn.

A committee staff analysis of the bill also says drivers clocked at less than 10 mph below the speed limit would be all right, provided they are not impeding traffic. But Clemens said there could be situations when a driver doing 70 mph “could be creating a hazard” for other cars by hogging the left lane.

“Most states that have those laws write very few violations. It's an education issue, very similar to the texting bill,” he said.

“It's very difficult to catch somebody texting and driving. But with this, the ability to educate people that the left lane is a passing lane, and you're supposed to stay to the right and not impede flow of traffic, is a big help.”

Clemens said former Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton pushed the bill for 10 years and even got it passed in 2006, but then-Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed it.

The bill makes a wide range of transportation changes, such as changing the employment status of Florida Highway Patrol captains from career service to management, revising safety rules for passengers in pickup beds, and specifying that a traffic officer verifying insurance coverage on a driver's cellphone can't thumb through and see what other sites or numbers the driver has stored.

“It's an omnibus bill that we've been working on for months now,” Brandes said. “We have to agree with the House on what we're actually going to have in the final package. We build it, strip it apart and then rebuild it in the final weeks of the session.”

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