Now that they're outfitted with $150 million worth of programmable signs and other gizmos, transportation planners have a new name for our local freeways: "Smart Highways." Too bad they can't afford remedial classes for the real impediment to free-flowing traffic: Dumb Drivers.

Share story

Now that our local freeways are outfitted with $150 million worth of programmable signs and other gizmos, transportation planners have a new name for them: “Smart Highways.”

Too bad they can’t afford remedial classes for the real impediment to free-flowing traffic: Dumb Drivers.

This is a tough thing to quantify, but people who’ve been around here long enough to remember when the Huskies wore purple without black will swear it’s true: Our freeways are plagued not just by a dearth of capacity, but an increasing surplus of stupidity.

Somewhere along the line, most of Western Washington forgot how to drive on the freeway.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

It’s not just us saying this. The other day, when we asked Sgt. J.J. Gundermann, a 13-year State Patrol trooper, to list a few dumb-driver practices that snarl local traffic, he honestly didn’t know where to start.

So we started for him. Exhibit A: The infamous left-lane camper, Washington state’s official vegetable.

You’ve seen this guy creating his personal rolling slowdown on Interstate 5, drooling along in the left lane, doing 69.975 in a 70-mph zone, as traffic stacks up behind him all the way to Sitka, oblivious, or simply not caring, that he’s in what the rest of the world recognizes as the passing lane.

“A lot of people do like to camp out in the left lane,” Gundermann says. “It clearly frustrates other motorists and it causes a lot of problems. It’s like sand going through an hourglass: It’s that one car, in that one lane, that’s holding everything up.”

Lane campers, troopers will tell you, are a major source of road rage. They also present a safety hazard by forcing motorists to pass on the right, where other cars aren’t looking for them.

Lane lawbreakers

And they’re breaking the law. RCW 46.61.100 forbids impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane of any roadway with two or more lanes. Drivers are required by law to move right if space is available.

Please note: It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. Impeding even a single car, at any speed, is illegal. You do not have the legal “right” to drive in the left lane as long as you maintain the speed limit. Period.

It matters not if the pavement is smoother there or if driving on the left makes your inner chakra and/or Pirelli radials feel better aligned. Got it?

Now, we know some devoted lane campers will get all lathered up about this, because a few years ago we broached this topic in print and some of them, incredibly, wrote in and actually confessed to lane camping on purpose, as some sort of passive-aggressive means of vigilante speed control.

Gundermann has a message for those folks: “I would say they should fill out an application to become a Washington State Patrol trooper.”

Translation: If the guy behind you in the left lane wants to speed, that’s between him, his god and the Smokeys. Not you.

So move over. It’s the law. The fine for breaking it is $124.

Contrary to popular perception, the statute is enforced by Washington’s 600 troopers. From January through October, they pulled over 9,946 drivers for “left lane” violations, and they’ve issued 937 citations.

Which is what we, out in Driver Land, might call a good start.

Gundermann acknowledges this traffic problem is particularly frustrating because it seems like it easily could be solved, either through more aggressive enforcement or education. But the state, first in line at the soup kitchen these days, claims it can’t afford to do that.

It’s up to rest of us

Rightly or wrongly, that leaves it to the rest of us.

The solution is simple, effective and free: For the love of God, move over, people.

The fact is, we’re all in this together. Which, granted, can seem unfortunate, given the alarming numbers of us who are blockheads. But we still have to share the same roads.

“It boils down to common sense, and common courtesy,” Gundermann says. “Can you imagine if people behaved in line for a ride at Disneyland or somewhere the same way they do driving on the freeway?”

Actually, yes. It’s called Black Friday. But that’s another topic. In the meantime, a simple plea to the foggy brains of Lane Camper Nation: For once, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season, do the rest of us a solid. Keep right except to pass. It’s good for you, good for traffic, good for the economy, good for America.

Ron Judd, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, scours the Northwest for stories about its people, places, traditions and endangered icons: Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or rjudd@seattletimes.com