BELLINGHAM - In Washington, drivers can be ticketed up to $124 for clogging up the left lane of any public road.
But will a trooper ever write you up for that much?
"Probably not," Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Francis conceded.
In fact, it takes an egregious case to get dinged at all.
Last year in Whatcom County, for example, troopers pulled over 816 people for the offense. Fourteen ended up with tickets. All of the others received a stern, brief lesson in RCW 46.61.100, the law summed up by black-and-white freeway signs telling drivers to "Keep Right Except to Pass."
Even though it's not the most serious of crimes, Francis said, coasting too slowly in the left lane can lead to tailgating and road rage.
"It can quickly escalate to something worse," he said. "If you're the person behind these cars, just be patient. Sometimes we catch the hotheaded people."
Last week, Francis was assigned to a miniature emphasis patrol in Whatcom County. (The entire patrol consisted of Francis in an unmarked black SUV.)
"It's a problem for you guys because all of Whatcom County is two lanes," he said. "We're all guilty of (getting frustrated) at some point or another."
Dan Clarke, a school bus driver from Coaldale, Alberta, got stuck behind a sluggish pickup southbound on Interstate 5 south of Ferndale. But he's the one who got pulled over for following a little too closely.
Like all of the drivers that Francis stopped Wednesday morning, Clarke got a lecture in lieu of a ticket. Clarke, on an international journey weaving through Spokane and Canada, claimed he wasn't too frustrated by the slow pickup driver - despite a hint of exasperation in his voice.
"Well, the signs say 'slower traffic keep right,'" he said. "He had plenty of time to get over."
Kirk Fengel, driving north at 6:40 a.m. on his way to work, readily admitted he was driving about 5 mph under the speed limit in the left lane.
"Consciously? No," Fengel admitted. "I think a lot of the time, people want to avoid a conflict with merging traffic."
There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as when you're letting other cars merge onto the freeway, or if you're getting ready to make a left turn.
But as a general rule, using the right lane except to pass can help to keep traffic from bottlenecking, Francis said, and that keeps other drivers happy.
READ THE LAW
RCW 46.61.100 covers keeping right except for passing: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.100.