5/2/2018Washington Appeals Court Busts Left Lane Bandit
Conviction upheld for man who drove in the left lane without passing in Washington state.
Dawdling in the left-hand lane of a freeway is a crime, even when that driver is not impeding traffic. That was the conclusion reached last week by the Washington Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction of Steven Martin Thibert, who was caught driving his silver Chevy Impala while high on marijuana because he refused to get out of the passing lane.
Benton County Deputy Justin Gerry was looking to write traffic tickets on Interstate 82 in July 2013 when he saw Thibert's Impala move into the left-hand lane of the highway to pass a slower moving car. Once Thibert was clear of the other vehicle, he stayed in the leftmost lane, even though the right-hand lane remained empty. Deputy Gerry concluded this violated the state's "Keep right except when passing" law. After Thibert pulled over, the deputy saw the man was using a medical marijuana smoking device while driving.
"He would sometimes stop speaking and just giggle," Deputy Gerry explained.
The question before the court, however, was only whether the deputy was right to order the Impala to pull over merely because it was traveling in the left lane without passing other traffic. The state law on the subject contains two provisions. One says traffic should stay in the right-hand lane, unless the driver can cite one of four listed reasons for moving left, including passing a slow vehicle. The other says it is an infraction to drive continuously in the left lane and impede traffic.
"It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic," Revised Code of Washington 46.61.100 states.
Thibert argued that the latter statute made it clear that what he did could only be illegal if he was blocking someone -- and he did not block anyone. The unanimous three-judge panel disagreed, arguing the two portions of the law work together.
"The subsections are reconcilable," Judge Laurel Siddoway wrote for the court. "An individual is permitted to drive in the left lane when one of the transient exceptions identified in subsection (2) applies, unless the transient exceptions arise so frequently that the individual's continuing travel in the left lane is impeding traffic. Because the conduct that is forbidden by statute can be understood by ordinary people, we also reject Mr. Thibert's passing argument that the statute is void for vagueness."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.