Virginia traffic proposal reads like a license to speed
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Gridlock ROBERT THOMSON