Law targets those who back up traffic

GREENFIELD — Motorists obeying the speed limit in the left lanes of highways will be required to move over to allow faster vehicles to pass or risk a $500 fine under a new Indiana law.

While some skeptics of the new regulation, which takes effect July 1, said it encourages drivers to disobey speed limits, local law enforcement officers feel it will help maintain safe traffic flow on the county’s busiest roadways.

The law was signed by Gov. Mike Pence this month and changes penalties for a handful of motor vehicle violations. Among these is a stipulation that gives faster drivers the right of way in the fast lane and permits police to issue tickets to left-lane drivers who fail to move over for faster-moving vehicles.

But the law does not encourage speeding, Hancock County Sheriff’s Lt. Donnie Munden said. If anything, it promotes courteous and safe driving, he said. While left lanes are sometimes referred to as the speeding lane or the fast lane, their true purpose is for passing or turning, he said, and drivers should treat them as such.

“This (law) is for the person … obstructing traffic,” Munden said.

“Sometimes, people camp out in that left lane and won’t move over. You have to be reasonable, and you have to use common sense.”

While road patrol officers tend to give drivers a few miles per hour of wiggle room when it comes to speeding, reckless driving — no matter what lane it occurs in — is strictly enforced, Greenfield Police Lt. Brent Inman said. That mentality will not change when the new law takes effect: Speeding in the left lane is still speeding.

“This is not an excuse for reckless driving,” Inman said. “You always run the risk of getting a ticket (if you’re speeding). But you’re backing up traffic and risking accidents if you’re going too slow.”

The mandate does not apply in certain instances when traffic is required to move slowly because of other circumstances, such as bad weather or traffic jams. It will not be enforced on drivers who slow down in the left lane while exiting on the left, paying a toll or pulling over for an emergency vehicle.

The legislation was approved by the Indiana House 97-0 and cleared the Senate in a 29-20 vote after being authored by State Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville.

He said the law’s purpose is to ensure “individuals who are driving in the fast lane slowly are properly incentivized to get out of your way.”

While the law might be read by some as an excuse to speed, Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said he doesn’t expect drivers to travel any faster than they already do once the law goes into effect.

But slower-moving vehicles can pose traffic hazards that are more concerning to law enforcement, he said.

Fast cars quickly approaching slower-moving vehicles often have to slam on their brakes, causing traffic congestion and accidents. These instances become particularly troublesome in high-speed areas like Interstate 70, Shepherd said.

Munden, too, has seen frustrated drivers use the median to pass slow-moving cars in the left lane on U.S. 40. He believes the new law will go a long way to prevent instances of road rage.

Keeping a highway’s left lane clear is in the best interest of law enforcement as well, Shepherd said.

Police and other first-responders often use the left lane to quickly respond to emergency calls, he said. Not every issue warrants lights and sirens but still might require fast driving.

“It can get annoying when you’re in that lane, and there is a semi or slower car blocking traffic,” Shepherd said. “It’s not OK to speed, but I’m glad to see a law where they have to move over.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.