COLUMNS

The Buckeye Bill: Column

Ceason Ranson
Ranson Ritings

The 2021 legislative session is over, and I’m so disappointed that House Bill 2222 didn’t get a shake in the Senate, because it involves an issue that I think brings all us Mountaineers together: prohibiting driving slow in the fast lane.

For the column’s sake, I’m going to call this “The Buckeye Bill,” because even though they didn’t say that’s who it was targeted towards, I think all of us on this side of the Ohio River know who they’re talking about when they say that driving slow in the left lane is a hazard to all drivers. I have zero statistics to back that up, but I certainly believe it accounts for 99 percent of curse words you see people mouthing on the interstate. The other 1 percent is for semi-trucks that drift over the lane line, and they’re said with more surprise than rage.

Over the years, I’ve cursed my fair share of slow left-lane drivers, and even went so far as to find out from my Buckeye friends just why they are incapable of getting over in the right lane once they’ve passed a vehicle, and to my shock, they actually had a good answer: because (until recently) the driving speeds on Ohio interstates were so low, it didn’t really matter what lane you drove in, so they all just got in the habit of doing 65 (and not one mile over) in whatever lane suited them. Then they cross the border into West Virginia, and they’re completely caught off guard by the fact that 70 miles an hour might be the posted speed limit, but 75-80 is the cultural norm, and if you aren’t doing that, you better get your butt over into the right lane.

In the interest of honesty, I am part of 90 percent of Mountaineers who drive 75-80 on the interstate, and I was also totally in favor of that measure that was floated around 10 or so years ago that talked about pushing our interstate speed limit up to 80. But the state of some portions of our interstate seems absolutely ludicrous; the stretch of interstate between Fairplain and Kenna sometimes has potholes the size of a cow, and hitting one of those wrong is a guaranteed trip to your favorite tire shop.

But oh, for all the complaining we do about the state of our roads, we are so lucky in the JCO to have the low-traffic portion of I-77. If we’re heavily speeding to Charleston and Parkersburg, it's because we can. We aren’t cursed with the ever-present construction and wrecks on I-64 between Putnam County and Charleston. We don’t have to fight the I-79 traffic from Buckhannon to Morgantown. For the most part, once we hit our interstate, we’re birds in flight, cruising down the highway at the speeds we’re comfortably driving at, using our turn signals as we move efficiently from one lane to the other, making all our assistant coach/driver's ed teachers proud.

And that’s the key, isn’t it? That people, for the most part, will drive at a speed they are comfortable with. Now, that might be 80, or it might be 55, but as long as you’re, literally, staying in your lane, there shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Except the problem comes when someone whose driving comfort level is 65 decides they’re also most comfortable driving in the left lane. Then next thing you know, there’s 20 cars stacked up because the Ford Taurus with the “Ohio State” sticker on the back windshield won’t speed up to pass the rusting pick-up truck, who can’t do more than 55 on its best day, on the uphill part between Tupper’s Creek and Eden’s Fork, and by the time they finally do decide to pass, everyone’s pinned in at the I-77/I-64 split in Charleston, and all the drivers behind said Taurus are absolutely raging mad.

Now, the purpose of the Buckeye Bill “is to prohibit vehicles from driving slow in the left lane of a roadway or interstate highway for more than a mile and a half without completely passing another vehicle except under certain circumstances.”

Herein lies my quibble with the bill: if we put the onus on the state police and county deputies to have to stop and ticket people who are, subjectively, driving “too slow,” we’re right back to where we are now. Because let’s face it, Mountaineers: our patrol cars have better things to do than act as the monitors on the interstate playground when it comes to who is too slow, or who’s been in the left lane too long, or what have you. And West Virginia has thousands of miles of interstate roads — the patrol guys can’t be expected to sit around in the median, just waiting for a slow left-lane driver to drive by. We frankly don’t pay them enough to listen to someone’s lame excuse about why they were living their dream as a NASCAR pace car outside of a racetrack.

That’s why I’m proposing that if this bill comes back up in the 2022 legislature, we add a “Citizens Report” provision, because who’s really out there, seeing all these slow left-lane drivers? The driving citizens, that’s who. We’re the ones stuck behind some “Salt Life” stickered caravan of cars, taking up the left lane for miles at a time, and we can’t exactly call 911 and say “Hey, can you send a state trooper to mile marker 145? ... Yeah, I’m stuck behind someone who is mildly inconveniencing me with slow driving in the left lane ... Sure, I’ll hold.” I promise, you will live on hold forever if you call that in, because the entire dispatch center will be laughing at you.

So I propose that interested citizens get certified into some sort of left lane patrol group (LLPG for short), whose only job is to record slow left-lane drivers with dash cameras. When they think they’ve been behind a too-slow driver, they email in the camera footage for proof, making sure there’s a license plate that can be seen, and then a ticket is mailed out to the offender. If the offender has a “circumstance” they can use as an excuse, they can certainly take it up with the local traffic court, but it better be a better excuse than “I just like the left lane.” These citizens will not get paid and they will receive no special favors; all they’ll get is the satisfaction of knowing they are helping clear the left lane for their fellow speeders around the Mountain State. If they’re real good at their job, maybe they get a gift certificate for the pepperoni roll of their choice.

And I know some of you are now asking yourself, “But wait — what will ‘slow’ really mean? Is 70 slow? Is 80 slow? Who gets to decide who’s slow, the LLPG?” Which is a totally valid question, because haven’t we all been going 80 miles an hour while passing someone, only to have some car doing 90 run up our tail ends like we’re doing “Driving Miss Daisy” speeds? And haven’t we all given that car’s driver The Look in our rear-view mirror before huffily jerking over into the right lane? Should you get ticketed for going “slow” in that circumstance, or should you just be able to follow that driver to their destination and then give them a lecture about how your particular amount of “driving over the speed limit” is okay, but they’re just being ridiculous?

Look, it's not going to be a perfect system, but at least with an LLPG group, there would be that many more eyes on the slow drivers in the left lane, and free ones at that (and don’t we Mountaineers love anything that’s free!). And when in doubt, I say we defer to the sage words of Justice Potter Stewart, who, in attempting to explain how he’d know when adult material went from protected First Amendment content to out and out obscene material, said he’d “know it when he {saw} it.” And that’s the system we should use: if we’re in the left lane behind another car, and your speedometer reads 60 miles an hour, then I think its safe to say you’re seeing “driving slow” in action, and it’s a ticketable offense.

And after so many tickets, we don’t let you drive in West Virginia anymore without re-taking your driver’s test and a lengthy improvement period where you can only drive a Mountaineer chaperon, preferably made up of a league of terrible side-seat drivers who sigh dramatically when you pass semi-trucks, or clutch the door frame when they think you’re taking a curve too fast, or slam imaginary brakes at red lights until you think their foot is going through the floor. You know, people who make you feel so bad about your driving, you’ll either get better, or you’ll just never drive in West Virginia. We’ll take either reason.

But while we’re at it, we’ll also teach Remedial Turn Signaling, because usually if you have one bad driving trait, refusing to signal turns is right there with it. And you can almost forgive someone driving slow in the left lane if, when they finally get over, you see that turn signal flashing, almost like an apologetic morse code that says “I know I was slow for 15 miles, and I know you’re mad enough to spit nails, but I apologize, and I promise, I’ll never do it again. Pinky swear, cross my heart."

"Yeah, sure you won’t, Salt Life. Sure."