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Georgia wants 'slow poke' drivers to stay in right lane

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 5:51 p.m.

ATLANTA – Interstate dawdlers, beware.

The Georgia Legislature approved a measure on Tuesday that would allow police to ticket those driving too slowly in the left lanes on the state's highways and interstates.

The “slow poke” bill would require any driver on a divided highway to move to the right – even if they're driving at the speed limit — when a vehicle going faster comes up from behind, or face a misdemeanor charge.

The Georgia Senate approved the measure on a 42-5 vote; the House of Representatives approved it 162-9 in February. It needs Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's signature to become law.

John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, approves of the measure. “I think most states do have some law on their books that attempts to limit slower drivers from using the left lane,” he says. “It really does make sense. And it's an issue we've been pushing for a long time.”

Lollygagging drivers could face misdemeanor penalties of no more than $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, who was a state trooper for 33 years and is the former head of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, says he expects much lower penalties.

He says the measure would be tough to enforce. He says he pushed it more for education purposes, over concerns that irate drivers stuck behind dawdlers might spur road rage incidents or cause crashes while trying to pass.

“I don't think a lot of people understand that on multi-lane highways with traffic going in the same direction, that slower traffic is supposed to keep right,” Hitchens says.

Once upon a time, slower drivers tended to drive in the right lanes.

“We call it lane courtesy,” Bowman says. “We trace (its demise) back to the implementation of the 55-mph maximum national speed limit. All of a sudden, it became more acceptable to drive at a slower pace. And people thought it was their duty to police others by forcing everyone to slow down. And I think it continues even today.”

The New Jersey Legislature approved a similar measure last year that doubled to $100 the minimum fine for those who linger in the left lanes. The South Carolina Legislature is considering a similar bill.

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