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Beware 'slowpokes' in the left lane, Minnesota state law to change Aug. 1

Drivers blocking faster traffic in the left lane to the point of causing a traffic hazard could be subject to a ticket.

073019.N.FNS. SLOWPOKE
Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington speaks with reporters about a new law aimed at keeping slow drivers out of the left lane on Monday, July 29, 2019. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ROSEVILLE, Minn. — Drivers moving too slowly in the left lane could be ticketed under a new law that bars "slowpokes" from unsafely preventing faster drivers from passing beginning Thursday, Aug. 1.

Lawmakers this year passed and Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the measure aimed at making traffic on the state's highways and freeways move more efficiently and safely.

So far this year, 186 people have been killed in traffic crashes on Minnesota roadways, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. And preventing distracted or unsafely-slow driving could help bring down that number.

“We can’t completely eliminate the carnage that happens on our roadways, but this law, which is a modernization of an old law, is designed to help us reduce that frequency,” Harrington said.

Before the law takes effect, here's what you need to know.

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What does the law say?

The law says that drivers blocking faster traffic to the point of causing traffic hazard on freeways and state highways with more than one lane in each direction must move to the right lane when practicable or risk being pulled over and ticketed.

What does that boil down to for drivers?

“If you’re passing, pass in the left lane. If you’re done passing, get out of the left lane and get back to the right lane as quickly as possible or as quickly as you can do it safely,” Harrington said.

And if drivers around you are speeding or otherwise breaking traffic laws, leave it up to law enforcement to resolve.

“Don’t take the law into your own hands, just move over,” Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol said.

What if I need to turn left or exit to the left?

Those exceptions are covered by the law, so you won't face a ticket. The law also provides an exception for drivers passing another vehicle.

What happens if I'm pulled over for driving too slowly in the left lane?

Under the law, those found driving too slowly in the left lane could face a $50 ticket plus $75 surcharges and court fees. Langer said troopers already pull drivers over if slow left-lane driving causes a safety concern, as that is written in existing law.

Troopers will be on the lookout for slow drivers in the left lane, but they'll likely be more focused on pursuing drivers who speed, use a cell phone behind the wheel or otherwise violate traffic laws.

“We don’t have added emphasis coming August 1 as a gotcha, it’s just a normal course of business for us to be out there putting in the enforcement piece,” Langer said.

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Does this mean I can speed up in the left lane?

Drivers will still be required to obey posted speed limits, as they do now. And law enforcement officers will continue to pursue speeding drivers as they can cause graver danger in many cases than slower drivers holding up traffic.

“Those are the motorists we’re going to be looking for, that we always are looking for," Langer said. "We’re definitely focused on speeding because speeding is one of the leading contributors to fatal and injury crashes and property damage crashes."

The governor summed up the change like this, “It’s not a free-for-all to go as fast as you can," Walz said. "It’s simply to make sure that the flow of traffic works in the most efficient and safe manner.”

What other traffic laws are set to change on Aug. 1?

Beginning Aug. 1, Minnesota law enforcement officers will be able to pull over drivers who hold their phones while behind the wheel in most circumstances.

Under a new law, drivers who hold their phone behind the wheel or otherwise swipe, type, scroll or view content on their cellphones will be subject to tickets and fines. The first offense is a $50 ticket plus court fees, which could add up to around $130, and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.

And qualified work zone flaggers could turn over license plate numbers and incident descriptions to peace officers if drivers disobey flaggers' orders, speed or otherwise drive unsafely through work zones.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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