Is it legal for big trucks to hang out in the center lane of the freeway mile after mile? I thought slower traffic was supposed to keep to the right. When trucks set up camp in the middle lane, it forces cars to pass them on the right, which I always heard was a safety hazard. —Lane Use Planning
Your letter raises many fascinating traffic safety concerns, Lane, most of which I’m going to ignore in favor of various 1970s trucking craze pop-culture references that no one younger than Joe Biden could possibly understand. Right turn, Clyde!
Is it legal for trucks to camp in the center lane? Basically, yes—and not just in the sense that it was “legal” for Pig Pen and Rubber Duck to put the hammer down, since they didn’t get caught. The “keep right” rule is more important when there are two lanes: In that situation, trucks (and everyone else) are indeed expected to stay in the right lane except when passing.
With three lanes it’s different. Trucks (which may have a lower posted speed limit) are often barred from using the far left lane at all. In such cases, it’s either the center lane or the right lane—and for a truck, the right lane sucks almost as hard as the third season of B.J. and the Bear.
It’s not that everyone in the right lane is an idiot—but when someone does decide to be an idiot, the right lane is the place where they do it. Doing 40 in a 70, whipping across traffic because that was your exit, or trying to merge without exceeding 25 mph—it all happens in the right lane.
For those of us who may drive cars, light trucks, or the occasional chartreuse microbus, avoiding these things is no problem. However, it usually requires some combination of hard braking, nimble lane changes and rapid acceleration—all swift adjustments that a 72-foot semi with a gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds can’t make nearly as easily (or safely) as a car can.
Far better, then, just to make a home in the center lane. After all, safety-conscious motorists can still pass you on the left. Less safety-conscious drivers can pass on the right—and the least safety-conscious of all will not pass on the right or the left, but will instead drive their Trans Am directly into the back of your big rig because that’s how ol’ Bandit runs.
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