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SC drivers hogging left lanes face stiffer fines, prison time in House-approved proposal

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I-26 Traffic (copy)

Two crashes on Interstate 26 slowed traffic on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Drivers on South Carolina interstates who travel persistently in the left lane could soon be liable for prison time and boosted fines as lawmakers seek to cut down on a contributor to highway wrecks. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

COLUMBIA — Drivers on South Carolina interstates who travel in the left lane for extended periods of time could soon be liable for prison time and boosted fines as lawmakers seek to cut down on a contributor to highway wrecks.

The S.C. House voted unanimously this month on a bill that doubles fines to $200 and could send offenders to prison for 30 days. The measure limits fines to $50 for drivers of commercial vehicles.

“Basically, you have drivers who become seriously impatient and attempt to pass on the right and inject themselves back into the left lane,” state Rep. Jay West, R-Belton and lead sponsor of H. 3011, said during recent committee meetings. “The purpose of this bill is to encourage safety on our interstates.”

State Rep. Cezar McKnight, a Kingstree Democrat who makes a 170-mile roundtrip to the Statehouse almost daily during the session, relished having a chance to have a more enjoyable ride.

“I have been working on not using profanity as much and the people that are violating the laws stated in your bill are keeping me from fulfilling my promise to myself,” he said on the House floor March 4.

The bill does not define how long a driver would need to remain in the left lane before getting a ticket. 

If the proposal wins final approval, officers could not write tickets for 180 days, giving motorists a warning period to adjust to the law.

The state Department of Transportation also is required to erect signs at least every 35 miles on interstates warning slower traffic to keep right. The $24,000 cost for 128 signs will be covered by existing funds within the agency’s budget.

West said lawmakers agreed to an amendment that would lessen fines for long-haul drivers at the request of South Carolina’s trucking industry. The amendment is supported by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. 

“We have very carefully worked with the truckers' association and others to make sure that we are considerate of those people who drive all day every day and thus have a greater exposure to penalty and fines,” West said. “We rely on these people heavily for our logistics. They move product from the ports ... so it's crucial we're cognizant of the fact this is their office.”

Efforts to adopt a so-called "slowpoke" bill have been tried for years at the Statehouse, and a Senate-backed measure to do so failed last session as it was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I spend a lot of my time on the road, whether it be coming here, traveling to court or wherever, and there's nothing more frustrating than having two cars riding side by side like they're in love,” McKnight said.

The measure is now awaiting action by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 9 percent of all interstate crashes come from unsafe merging and lane changes, though it is unclear how many come from drivers not willing to move out of the left lane. 

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

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