For Semis: the Right Lane is Never the Left

By: Patricia Woloch

If you are following the posted speed limit on the highway, the odds are you are being passed by every commercial truck on the road. As you try to allow room for merging traffic on the right, and maintaining a reasonable speed in the center lane, you often find large commercial vehicles going into the left lane to pass. Sometimes this means you are caught between two such vehicles in what seems like a car crusher racing down the highway at almost seventy miles an hour! Then, as the car crusher weaves around a corner, vehicles on both sides cheat away from the traffic barriers, impinging on your traffic lane, growing closer and closer.

In some situations, this can turn into a deadly accident, but it is a situation this should never occur. In the state of Pennsylvania, all trucks with a gross weight over 10,000 pounds are prohibited from traveling in the left lane of all highways with three or more lanes traveling in the same direction. Furthermore, a recent court ruling affirms that this law applies in all cases to all drivers of large commercial trucks.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania V. Samantha McBryde

On April 13, 2005, a state trooper observing a stretch of Interstate 81 in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, when he was informed that McBryde was operating her tractor-trailer truck in the left-hand lane and above the posted speed limit. The trooper confirmed that this was the case and pulled her over, at which time he confirmed from vehicle registration that the truck's gross vehicle weight was 80,000 pounds. This citation was confirmed in trial before a district judge, then upheld by a county court of appeals. Finally, McBryde filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which the court decided on October 11, 2006.

McBryde's appeal to the Superior Court alleged two reasons why the conviction should be overturned:

1.Insufficiency of evidence
2.Failure of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to post notice of left-lane restriction

In its finding, the Superior Court found no reason to consider an insufficiency of evidence and, according to precedent, decided to uphold the conviction. In the second claim, that the failure to post the restriction should excuse McBryde from responsibility, the court analyzed the state's statutes regarding the left-lane restriction for trucks with a gross weight over 10,000 pounds.

Statutory Language

The dispute over statutory language centered on Section 3313 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, which describes restrictions on the use of limited-access highways such as I-81 or I-80. The section contains the following language at the center of the dispute:

(a) General rule-The department may regulate or prohibit the use of any limited access highway by any class or kind of tragic which is found to be incompatible with the normal and safe movement of traffic.
(b) Traffic-control devices at entrances-The department, when adopting any prohibition under this section, shall erect and maintain official traffic-control devices at the entrances to the limited access highway on which the prohibitions are applicable and when in place no person shall disobey the restrictions stated on the devices.
...
(d) Driving in the right lane
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(2) Unless otherwise posted, no vehicle or combination over 10,000 pounds may be driven in the left-hand lane of a limited access highway having three or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction except when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, an exit or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.

McBryde claimed that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had violated statute section 3313 when it failed to post a warning to her that trucks over 10,000 pounds in gross vehicle weight were not allowed to drive in the left-hand lane. However, the Superior Court found that subsection (d) is a legislative determination, i.e. a universal law, and that therefore notice is presumed. According to the court, the traffic-control devices listed in subsection (b) are only required when the department exercises its option to adopt any additional prohibition under the section and regulate the roadways in a manner not codified by the legislature.

Since the legal maxim is that everyone is presumed to know the law, even an out-of-state driver, like McBryde, or an international driver, such as Canadian and Mexican truckers, is presumed to know and abide by the laws.

The Ramifications

The effect of this ruling on you is that if you are ever passed by a truck driving in the left-hand lane on a highway where there are three or more lanes traveling in the same direction, that truck is in violation of the law. This also means that if that truck causes or is involved in an accident, that driver is at fault.

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