Vir­ginia traf­fic pro­posal reads like a li­cense to speed

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER -

While the District works on a Vi­sion Zero plan to slow down driv­ers and end traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties, the Vir­ginia Gen­eral As­sem­bly is work­ing on a bill that — at least in the wish­ful think­ing of some sup­port­ers — will en­hance their free­dom to speed.

The bill in ques­tion is HB 2201, in­tro­duced by Del. Is­rael D. O’Quinn, a Repub­li­can from South­west Vir­ginia.

Be­fore I tell you what the bill says, I want to share some of the head­lines it has spawned so you’ll have a sense of why it won the hearts of speed­ers:

“Bill pro­poses manda­tory $250 fine in VA for driv­ing slow in left lane”; “House ap­proves $250 fine for Vir­ginia’s left-lane dawdlers”; “Ed­i­to­rial: Pun­ish Vir­ginia’s left-lane lag­gards.”

The speed­ers’ ver­sion of Vi­sion Zero in­volves see­ing only what they want to see in traf­fic law. The orig­i­nal bill would change noth­ing in Vir­ginia’s traf­fic code other than peg­ging the fine for cer­tain vi­o­la­tions at $250, rather than to­day’s more flex­i­ble stan­dard of up to $250.

The sec­tions of traf­fic law that the bill tar­gets in­clude th­ese in­struc­tions:

On all high­ways of suf­fi­cient width, the driver of a ve­hi­cle shall drive on the right half of the high­way. (This is what we do in the United States. We drive on the right side of the road.)

Where the road has been di­vided into clearly marked lanes, a ve­hi­cle go­ing less than the nor­mal speed of traf­fic at the time and place and un­der ex­ist­ing con­di­tions “shall be driven in the lane near­est the right edge or right curb of the high­way when such lane is avail­able for travel ex­cept when over­tak­ing and pass­ing an­other ve­hi­cle or in prepa­ra­tion for a left turn.”

Stay in your lane un­less you know you can safely move out of it.

For a per­son who got a driver’s li­cense in Vir­ginia, or in most other states, there’s noth­ing sur­pris­ing in th­ese sec­tions of code.

A beginner mo­torist would have seen this in­for­ma­tion in the Vir­ginia driver’s man­ual:

“If you are trav­el­ing slower than the traf­fic around you on a multi-lane high­way, drive in the right-hand lane.”

“It is against the law to ex­ceed the speed limit as you pass.”

“Speed Limit: This in­di­cates the max­i­mum le­gal speed that you may travel on the road where this sign is posted as­sum­ing weather con­di­tions are fa­vor­able. Dur­ing rain, snow and ice, you may re­ceive a ticket for over­driv­ing the con­di­tions even if you are driv­ing at or less than the posted speed limit.”

I searched in vain for any sec­tion in the code or man­ual that says it’s okay to speed, in any lane. But when this comes up for dis­cus­sion, as it did dur­ing my on­line chat Mon­day, many driv­ers as­sure me that it’s very okay, even ex­pected.

This let­ter is a re­sponse to that dis­cus­sion.

Dear Dr. Grid­lock: Here are some of the points made by the par­tic­i­pants:

1) The left lane is for pass­ing and ex­ceed­ing the speed limit when pass­ing is per­mit­ted.

Com­ment: This is not per­mit­ted. Not any time. Not any­where. Speed lim­its are ab­so­lute.

2) Peo­ple in the left lane trav­el­ing at the speed limit should move to the right lane when there are peo­ple backed up be­hind them.

Com­ment: Thus peo­ple in the left lane do­ing the speed limit should ac­com­mo­date reck­less driv­ers who want to drive over the speed limit. This is the at­ti­tude that causes most of the deaths and in­juries on our roads. Lost in the dis­cus­sion is the fact that on many roads all lanes are con­gested all the time. Mov­ing to the right is near im­pos­si­ble.

3) Cars should have cow­catch­ers so peo­ple trav­el­ing at less than the speed limit, even those get­ting ready to make a left turn, can be shoved off the road.

Com­ment: Peo­ple who think like this should not be op­er­at­ing any­thing me­chan­i­cal.

A more con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion would cen­ter on the soar­ing death and in­jury rate re­sult­ing from dis­tracted driv­ing and wide­spread reck­less driv­ing and the in­abil­ity of the po­lice to do any­thing about it. They are over­whelmed.

— Richard C. Kreutzberg, Bethesda

It’s all true. Ex­cept for the cow­catcher part.

Re­view­ing the bill, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) asked the as­sem­bly to cut the fine to $100. The House has agreed, 89 to 8. The Se­nate has yet to vote.

Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at The Wash­ing­ton Post, 1301 K St. NW, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071, or email dr­grid­lock@wash­post.com.

Dr. Grid­lock ROBERT THOM­SON

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