Concerns voiced on left-lane bill


March 11, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I RECEIVED an e-mail last week from Patricia M. of Columbia. It's one of those e-mails I love to receive.

"We moved to Maryland one and a half years ago. At first we assumed it was just us who had problems adjusting to traffic in Howard County. Thanks to your column, we have learned we are not alone. Your column has become one of the best educational tools we have found," she said.

Thanks, Patricia M. I've heard a lot of complaints about Maryland drivers from former out-of-staters, so you're not alone.

But the real reason she e-mailed was to voice her concern.

"Now for what has to be the most ridiculous thing we've yet to hear. The Maryland House of Delegates wants to make it a fine and point if one is doing the speed limit in the left lane. What is going on?" she asked, noting that there are several lane configurations on local highways that would force a driver to stay in the left lane to line up for an upcoming exit, such as entering Route 100 eastbound from U.S. 29 southbound.

"If [this proposal passes], does that mean I must surpass the speed limit to get to my exit to avoid the extreme punishment? What if a police officer decides to punish me by enforcing the speed limit? Initially, I thought the talk of this pending law would only be applied if one was doing below the speed limit, but the article I read in the Today section of The Sun on 3/3/03 makes it seem that the new law will say I should go faster. I hope that I am wrong about this," she said.

I think this proposal lends itself to being misunderstood. The bill, if passed, wants you to yield to faster drivers stacking up behind you to facilitate the flow of traffic, not go faster. For the record, I've always maintained that yielding the left lane to faster drivers is a matter of common sense and safety.

However, in the scenario Patricia M. brought up, it is safer to get into and stay in the left lane before an upcoming left-hand exit, rather than weaving back and forth, or dodging into the left lane at the last minute.

She was among several who e-mailed me about this bill, which the House of Delegates approved last month and would require drivers camped out in the left lane to move aside for faster drivers. However, of the five e-mails I received, Patricia M.'s was the lone voice against it.

Under the bill, which is under consideration in the state Senate, drivers who fail to yield the left lane to faster-moving vehicles could be subject to a fine and a point on their licenses. The penalty would apply even to those who are following the speed limit.

Readers might recall that several columns last fall were dedicated to this topic. At first glance, I applauded this bill. But now I have misgivings, among them whether this proposal is enforceable.

I checked with state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman to learn his position. "I will vote for the bill if it comes to the Senate floor," he said. Will it have enough votes to pass? That's "a toss-up," but he predicts that if it does, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will sign it.

School bus safety

Another recent e-mail came from Michelle Popp, a school bus driver in Howard County. Her routes include Atholton High and Hammond and Forest Ridge elementary schools.

"Please remind all drivers that those buses contain children, and it would be nice if drivers would act like humans behind the wheel of their cars," she said.

"People blow by our flashing reds while we are either loading or unloading, flash us [gestures] or use verbally abusive language because we are stopped picking up children or waiting for a safe distance to pull out from a street, and try to outrace us to get ahead of the bus so that they won't be held up when we do stop to load or unload," she said.

"Please ask [your readers] to remember that we are shuttling children ... and that their actions are teaching the kids how to act when they get their licenses. It's a self-perpetuating lesson, and it needs to stop before someone gets seriously injured or killed," she said.

She also said that school bus drivers usually try to get license numbers of offenders and turn them in.

Ms. Popp also had some words of advice for parents of children who ride school buses. "Children need to be aware of noise levels and of moving around or standing in the bus while we are driving, not getting out of their seats until the driver stops completely and tells them to get off and just behaving themselves as their parents would want them to," she said.

Thanks for your advice, Ms. Popp. All of you out there: Please follow it.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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