SC legislator: Ban slow, distracted drivers from the left lane

abeam@thestate.comDecember 3, 2013 

RACHAEL LOWE — The State

  • Jumpstarting the session Tuesday was the first of four days that lawmakers can file proposed bills in advance of the upcoming legislative session. Bills filed Tuesday included:

    H.3344, by Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, would create “the hate crime of assault and battery upon a homeless person.”

    H.4343, by Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, would increase the penalty for criminal domestic violence to 180 days in jail from 30 days in jail

    H.4352, by Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, would require the state to release data on the high school graduation rate, based on race or ethnicity, by Sept. 1 of each year

    H.4356, by Rep. Raye Felder, R-York, would let voters decide if their county should raise the gas tax to pay for road repairs

    H.4370, by Rep. John King, D-York, would allow funeral homes to refuse to release bodies until they are paid for their services

    H.4373, by Rep. Josh Putnam, R-Greenville, would require S.C. public officials to receive “continuing ethics instruction”

Tired of slow drivers clogging the fast lane? One state lawmaker feels your pain.

State Rep. Josh Putnam, R-Greenville, filed legislation Tuesday that would force slower drivers into the right lane of interstates and multi-lane highways.

The bill would ban drivers from using cellphones while traveling in the left lane. It would make it illegal to drive five miles per hour below the posted speed limit in the left lane. And it would outlaw ever driving in the left lane except for passing other cars – not including a host of exceptions for emergency vehicles and traffic jams.

“We want to make sure slow drivers and drivers that might be distracted, doing stuff inside their car, move over to the right-hand side of the road,” Putnam said. “In left lanes on interstates or highways, you’ve got to maintain that posted speed limit. Go underneath that, you get ticketed at the same rate you get ticketed as if you were going over the posted speed limit.”

Putnam’s bill, H.4391, was one of 53 filed by lawmakers Tuesday, the first day legislators could file new bills in advance of the January legislative session. The bills automatically are assigned to a committee and get a head start on the six-month session, which begins Jan. 14.

The penalty for using your cellphone in the left lane would be $25 while driving too slow would cost you 2 points on your drivers’ license. In S.C., 12 points of driving penalties results in a suspended license.

Rick Todd, president of the S.C. Trucking Association, opposes the bill.

Todd said charging a driver 2 points for a “nuisance violation” would be too much.

“There is a technique that you want to use to save fuel and maintain speed, and sometimes being in that left lane and slowly overtaking a slower vehicle and getting back over in a reasonable amount of time is a good thing to do,” Todd said. “It might inconvenience some people behind you a little bit, but our problem is people just aren’t patient enough any more, and we don’t have enough highway capacity.”

Putnam said other states, including gridlocked California, have similar laws. He said the Trucking Association’s concerns could be “easily fixed.”

This is not the first time lawmakers have proposed clearing South Carolina’s fast lanes.

In 2005, lawmakers approved a bill by state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, that would have banned motorists from using the left lane except when passing other vehicles. But then-Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, and the Legislature did not override his veto.

State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said he would not be surprised if the bill passed.

“All you’ve got to do is travel I-95 to be a proponent of that bill.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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