By Hon. Earl G. Penrod, Senior Judge & Indiana Judicial Outreach Liason | Indiana Criminal Justice Institute
Fortunately, most drivers are law-abiding and respectful behind the wheel. However, traffic safety is negatively impacted by two additional types of drivers: those who do maddening things while driving and those who are particularly bothered by that conduct.
- driving in the left lane while NOT passing another vehicle
- talking/texting on a cell phone while driving
- NOT using a turn signal or leaving a signal on for miles
- eating or using rear view mirror for personal grooming
- speeding, tailgating, darting in and out of traffic
- drunk driving and drugged driving, including impairment from prescription medications
Although it often depends on the specific circumstances, judicial officers handling traffic matters likely can identify which of the irritating driving behaviors constitute a traffic violation or criminal offense. And experienced traffic safety professionals know that some things that raise the hackles of other drivers do not necessarily violate the law. State legislatures, including the Indiana General Assembly, regularly consider and enact traffic safety measures, particularly when research shows that certain driving conduct is not merely irritating but dangerous.
Move over, slowpoke!
Left lane law
Since 2015, Indiana’s “left lane courtesy law” (AKA: ‘slowpoke law’) prohibits driving in the left lane on a multi-lane highway when another vehicle wishes to pass. There are a number of exceptions to the law such as construction lane blockages, inclement weather, yielding to emergency vehicles, or when preparing to exit or turn left, but the exceptions/defenses do NOT include driving at or near the posted speed limit. In other words, when driving on a multi-lane highway, a driver must move to the right lane to allow others to pass in the left lane.
Hang up and drive!
Cell phone usage
Indiana is with the vast majority of other states in banning texting while driving, although the Indiana ban against typing, transmitting, or reading a text does not apply if the driver is utilizing hands free or voice operated technology. Further, except for drivers under 21, it is not a violation in Indiana to talk on a cell phone while driving, and the driver is permitted to hold the phone while talking. Unlike a number of other states, Indiana has not enacted a hands-free requirement for talking on the cell phone while driving.
Alcohol and drugs bad… medicine okay?
Over the last number of years, there has been some notable success in educating the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, and more than 95% of the public now believes that driving over the legal limit for alcohol is extremely or very dangerous. Unfortunately, too many individuals continue to drive after drinking, and we are also seeing a significant increase in “drugged driving,” that is, driving while under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.
Most people understand that it is dangerous, unlawful, and unacceptable to operate a vehicle with illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and methamphetamine in one’s system. Further, many individuals and communities know how prescription drug abuse can be a major contributor to the opioid/drug crisis, and drugged driving from prescription drugs is certainly on the rise.
However, too many people fail to appreciate that some ‘over the counter’ drugs and several prescription medications may cause impairment, even when taken as designed and prescribed. Some OTC and prescription medications provide warnings that the drugs may cause drowsiness and dizziness, and one should not operate heavy machinery when taking the drug. But seldom is there any pubic ire directed toward people who drive in spite of such warnings, even though it is dangerous AND unlawful to operate a vehicle while impaired, even if it results from taking one’s medicine.
Driving is a privilege that should be conducted respectfully and safely. Driving unselfishly will minimize the chance of violating the law and angering other drivers. And drivers who are personally offended and angered by rude driving of others might well benefit from the sage advice of the great American philosopher Sergeant Hulka from the 1981 movie Stripes: “Lighten up Francis!”