Bad things happen when trucks pass each other

trucks after accidentTwo drivers escaped injury Tuesday when a semitruck, using the right lane to pass a snowplow on his left, collided with the plow on Interstate 84. Both vehicles crashed east of Pendleton near Cabbage Hill.

Police ticketed the semitruck driver for unsafe passing. Oregon law prohibits passing a snowplow on the right while it's plowing.

I can understand a driver's frustration at being delayed behind a slow-moving plow. But it's always smart, not just legal, to stay behind. The road behind a snowplow is always clearer and safer than what lies ahead.

What's also frustrating, and perceived as illegal by many drivers, is getting stuck behind a semitruck struggling to pass another. Are trucks legally allowed to pass one another on a two-lane freeway?

Envision this: You're driving on a rural stretch of freeway. It's a four-lane highway, two lanes in each direction. As you approach an incline, the semitruck ahead of you turns on its blinker and moves into the left lane, revealing another truck just ahead of it in the right lane.

semitruck passing another Both trucks slow as they struggle up the hill, and even though you're going the speed limit you quickly close ground. Now you're stuck behind two trucks lumbering side-by-side uphill. It takes a full minute or longer for the truck in the left lane to finish passing and move over.

Was it legal for that driver to pass?

Yes, according to Washington and Oregon law. (In Oregon, "left-lane camping" is not yet illegal for any vehicle.)

The Washington State Patrol's FAQs say that a vehicle or combination over 10,000 pounds shall be driven only in the right-hand lane except when passing, traveling faster than the traffic flow, allowing traffic to merge, or preparing for a legal left turn.

Washington law also says drivers should move left, if safely possible, when approaching police or emergency vehicles parked on the shoulder. In Oregon, this is called the Move Over or Slow Down Law.

However, when there are three or more lanes in one direction, commercial vehicles cannot travel in the left lane at all. They can legally use the right two lanes.

Sgt. James Prouty, WSP Government & Media Relations, confirmed and summarized this in an email today.

semitrucks on two-lane road "When there are three or more lanes traveling in the same direction, vehicles pulling trailers (commercial or not) are prohibited in the far left lane," Sgt. Prouty wrote. "If there are only two lanes traveling in the same direction, vehicles pulling trailers are allowed to travel in the left lane. As with all vehicles, if there are two or more lanes traveling in the same direction, they are required to keep right except when passing."

So if you get stuck behind two lumbering semitrucks, don't gesture at the passing driver, thinking he or she is a lawbreaker. Discourteous, perhaps, but not illegal.

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