Politics Blog

Spokane senator: ‘There ought to be a law’ against left-lane drivers

With the news out of Olympia along the predictable line of, “The two parties can’t get anything done,” it’s oddly refreshing if not practically meaningless to see what Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced last week.

The lack of progress in budget talks suggests Washington state legislators’ stay in Olympia may be extended. Maybe they’ll use some of the anticipated special-session time to pass the bill Baumgartner introduced on Thursday, April 16. Otherwise, Baumgartner has missed all deadlines to get his new bill passed in this session. Often, bills are introduced this late in the session (in this case, 10 days before the scheduled last day of Sunday, April 26) to start the conversation for next year’s session.

Amid all the updates of bills signed by the governor, and the tired old press-release war between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, came an announcement today, Monday, April 20, from Baumgartner’s office that stood out:

Baumgartner takes aim at obnoxious, dangerous left-lane drivers

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Michael Baumgartner is taking aim at the road hogs who get into the fast lane — and just poke along.

In a bill introduced late last week in Olympia, the Spokane Republican proposes that left-lane drivers who drive slower than the speed limit be slapped with special penalties, when they drive continuously in the left lane and impede traffic. The slower they drive, the higher the fine. It’s the same way speeding tickets work, but in reverse.

“How often have you found yourself stuck in slow-moving freeway traffic because someone is hogging the fast lane?” Baumgartner asks. “If you drive back and forth on the freeways from Spokane to Olympia the way I do, you can’t help thinking there ought to be a law.”

Already the state of Washington makes it a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane highway, when it impedes the flow of traffic. The left lane is supposed to be used only for passing, moving aside for merging traffic, or preparing for a left turn.

Baumgartner says too many motorists haven’t gotten the message. So his bill, SB 6105, creates a new traffic offense of aggravated left-lane driving. In addition to the $124 fine for continuous left lane driving, a slowpoke could be slapped with additional penalties. They would start at $27 for one-to-five miles under the speed limit, and rise to $67 for 16-to-20 miles an hour under the limit.

“Poky left-lane drivers aren’t just a nuisance,” Baumgartner said. “They’re a safety hazard, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes, tailgate or weave around them to the right. You can recognize them by the long line of frustrated drivers you’ll find right behind them. There ought to be a penalty for that sort of obliviousness.”

Balancing a budget, green-lighting transportation projects and properly funding education may be high priorities, but the conservative Republican who does a lot of cross-state driving has undoubtedly latched on to a problem most commuters can relate to: those lawbreakers who apparently believe it’s OK to drive below the speed limit in the left lane of interstate highways. (I don’t know if it’s occurred to the senator that incidents of this on his Spokane-to-Olympia drive may be on the rise now that marijuana is legal in this state.)

If you thought such a news release wouldn’t catch on, with so many more important issues on the Legislature’s plate, think again. The story was picked up within an hour of its release by KING 5 in Seattle.

The story is also on KOMO’s website, but they took it off the wire from the Associated Press.

Speaking of media coverage, today is the one day out of the year when reporters at a handful of American newspapers get to feel good about themselves.

The Pulitzer Prize awards in journalism were announced today. Watching the headlines atop The Seattle Times last year, I saw this one coming: The Times won the breaking news Pulitzer for its coverage of the Oso landslide.

Some of the usual suspects also made the Pulitzer Prize list, including The New York Times (three awards) and the Los Angeles Times (two awards). In nonfiction books, basically long-form reporting, Elizabeth Kolbert, who writes for The New Yorker, won for “ The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”