Our Opinion: Passing-lane bill gives nanny state a new speed trap

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Slowpokes in the left lane really grind Duane Hall’s gears.

It’s a frustration many motorists share, but for most of us, it’s a minor inconvenience. As far as grievances go, it’s a watercooler gripe or banal banter for the dinner table at best.

But blowing off steam isn’t good enough for Mr. Hall, who happens to be a duly elected member of the N.C. House of Representatives. He’s pushing to make his pet peeve against the law.

Hall, D-Wake, introduced House Bill 827 on April 11. After a round of incredulous news coverage, it was tweaked in the Transportation Committee but failed to make it to the floor ahead of the April 27 crossover deadline, the date by which most bills must advance beyond the chamber where they originated in order to remain viable.

Ordinarily, HB 827 would be dead. But a provision to spend $50,000 on compliance education makes it an appropriations bill, which is exempt from the crossover rule. The Judiciary I committee gave the green light to this lead-footed legislation on Wednesday, and the bill is now on the calendar for a vote in the full House.

Hall’s bill would require motorists on all controlled-access and partially controlled-access highways to stay out of the left lane “except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when making a left turn.”

Violators would be declared guilty of “impeding the steady flow of traffic,” an infraction carrying a $200 fine. There is a one-year grace period, with officers instructed to enforce the law by warning ticket only until Nov. 30, 2018.

Proponents of the bill say slow drivers are a threat to highway safety. We don’t buy that. Improper equipment and inattention resulting in a failure to apply the brakes on time are the culprits for rear-end crashes.

Motorists who plod along in the left lane are oblivious at best and inconsiderate at worst. But we think drivers are equipped to handle the occasional highway harangue without government interference.

A flash of the high beams or a tap on the horn from a following vehicle are gestures universally understood to mean “Move over, please.” That seems to do the trick most of the time. When a stubborn sluggard won’t budge and it’s safe to change lanes, drivers simply pass on the right.

HB 827 is the textbook definition of a nanny-state policy. Take a minor social problem that reasonable people can deal with on their own and get law enforcement involved to do busybodies’ bidding. Change citizens’ behavior under the threat of a high-dollar fine.

Seems to us the passing-lane bill could easily create more problems than it solves. Drivers determined to use the left lane would be more likely to speed. Motorists may create traffic tangles by clogging the right and center lanes, erring on the side of caution because they’re fearful to linger on the left a moment too long.

In the thick of budget negotiations, our lawmakers are dallying to debate Seinfeldian grumbles better suited to sitcom dialogue than serious legislation. It’s a headline-grabbing head-scratcher, a bill about nothing.

Representative Hall sure must be in a hurry to make it to the Legislative Building each day. It’s a shame he can’t make better use of his time once he gets there.