It’s the law: Keep right except to pass

PEMCO Poll finds almost half of drivers are unaware of passing-lane laws



​​​SEATTLE – A recent poll helped explain a phenomenon that vexes many Washington drivers: why it seems that our highways are clogged with “left-lane campers,” the people who drive continuously in the passing lane of multilane roadways, obstructing traffic.

According to the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, 43 percent of Washington drivers don't know that impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane is against the law.

"If almost half of drivers don't know that left-lane camping is illegal, that might explain why it seems so common on our freeways," PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg said. "Perhaps we simply need to increase awareness."

Nearly nine out of 10 drivers regularly see offenders of the law “camping out” in the left lane, seemingly oblivious to or unconcerned with the traffic jam building behind them.  However, an equal amount of drivers – 90 percent – deny impeding traffic themselves, leaving just 9 percent of Washington drivers who self-identify as someone who blocks freeway traffic from passing in the left lane, at least some of the time.

Of those who admit to blocking traffic in the left lane, younger drivers outnumber their older counterparts two to one – 17 percent of those under 35 knowingly left-lane camp compared to 7 percent of those 35 and older.

Sergeant J.J. Gundermann of the Washington State Patrol said it’s one of the roles of the State Patrol to educate drivers on passing-lane laws.

"Some people have asked if we actually stop drivers for staying in the left lane, and we absolutely do," Sergeant Gundermann said. "The legislature's intent is for the left lane to be used as a passing lane, and ultimately some people need a ticket to get them to comply."

Section 46.61.100 of the Revised Code of Washington explains that all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane available for traffic upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction.  Exceptions to the law include overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow.

PEMCO found that when faced with the prospect of a slow-moving vehicle in front of them, almost a quarter of respondents say that flashing their vehicle’s headlights is the most effective way to encourage left-lane violators to change lanes.

When the roles are reversed, one-third of drivers agree that flashing headlights or tailgating would be the most likely way to encourage them to change lanes.

About a quarter of respondents agree that the least effective method is for other drivers to use hand gestures, and younger drivers find it particularly ineffective to tap on a car’s horn – 23 percent of younger drivers chose horn-honking as the least effective method compared to 13 percent of those 35 and older.

"Although left-lane violations don’t cause a lot of collisions, they cause driver frustration, which is distracting," said Sergeant Gundermann. "But we strongly discourage drivers from taking any action – like flashing headlights or tailgating – when they're stuck behind a left-lane camper.  Those actions can promote road rage and rarely get other drivers to change their behavior."

PEMCO's "We're A Lot Like You. A Little Different." ad campaign acknowledges the left-lane camping phenomenon with its Northwest Profile #51: Oblivious Left-Lane Occupant. "Stay right except to pass? Nah. I’ll just stay right here, I have so much space in front of me," the driver says.

To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and view a summary of the results, visit, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April 2011.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 601 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.1 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance

PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit