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Ask A Trooper: What Lanes Are Semi Trucks Allowed to Use on the Freeway?

Washington State Patrol District 1 spokesperson and recruiter Guy Gill answers your questions about the rules of the road.

Q: Are semi trucks allowed to travel in any lane on the freeway, or are they restricted to the right lanes?

A: On the freeway, commercial vehicles cannot travel in the left lane when there are three or more lanes. They are not required to be in the far right lane and can legally use the right two lanes.

Troopers do see semi trucks traveling in the left lane and we do pull them over. The majority of infractions we give to commercial vehicles are for weight violations and semis account for only a small percentage of highway collisions.

Passenger vehicles are also prohibited from traveling in the left lane, except for passing. In Pierce and Thurston counties, that message is clearly posted on the left side of the freeway.

The left lane is designed to facilitate good traffic flow, so get out of the far left lane, unless you’re passing another car. 

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Trooper Guy Gill is the Washington State Patrol recruiter and spokesman for District 1, covering Pierce and Thurston counties. Follow him at @wspd1pio on Twitter. 

Thomas Imrich February 20, 2013 at 06:02 AM
"Drive on the right and only pass on the left" facilitates traffic flow, reduces unnecessary queuing, saves energy, helps the environment, reduces road rage, improves safety, and makes general good sense. States and regions that "sign it" and "aggressively enforce it", typically have both better highway operation and safety. So why does Washington State not more aggressively enforce it???.... ...instead of focusing on proposing inappropriate, if not even illegal, tolling of Interstates???
stephanie February 20, 2013 at 10:14 AM
slow people in the left lane who refuse to move over should be ticketed more often than they are. people get frustrated because they can't pass that they end up driving more recklessly than they would if they were allowed to travel unimpeded. semis also shouldn't be allowed to use the left lane unless they know they can make a pass. I hate getting stuck behind semis on 512. I hate how people drive on 512 period!
Lauren Padgett (Editor) February 20, 2013 at 05:25 PM
I agree Stephanie, 512 gets frustrating!
Gregory Cooper February 20, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Also, pick ups pulling trailers and vehicles with a gross weight of 10,000 lbs or more are prohibited from using the left lane (when there are three or more lanes). Clearly posted in Tacoma area on I-5 and north by Mt. Vernon. If you don't believe it, try pulling a travel trailer or horse trailer in the left lane... you can and will be ticketed.
Susan February 20, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I think the no driving in the left lane is a bunch of "horse doo doo" and the reason that no one follows it is because most of us drive in rush hour traffic and -- god forbid everyone left a whole lane free "just for people to use while passing" it would create a traffic nightmare! People wake up, it isn't enforceable because it doesn't make sense. It is one of the "stupid people" laws they only right when they are mad at someone and have nothing else to get them for (and no I have never gotten a ticket it). People just "know" when a rule or law doesn't make sense and this law is wrong for anyone in a big city. The statistics quoted above are from ALL highway statistics and do not take into account high traffic in large cities, especially during rush hour. Trying to have a universal law like this, that just makes no sense to the majority of people who drive to work 5 days a week with hundreds of thousands other cars on the road hear a law like this and laugh because it just doesn't compute. Seriously I would love to see the state troopers give out tickets to every person I saw driving in the left lane of I5 today on my way to work. It was stop and go traffic for over 5 miles....so how many tickets do you suppose that would be...enough to get the state out of debt ...hmmmm
Jesse Ray February 20, 2013 at 09:16 PM
I respectfully disagree Susan. The keep right except to pass law makes a lot of sense. Many drivers do not know what this means, as drivers in the PNW seem to lack this kind of common sense. I would agree that keeping right except to pass during rush hour on the 405 is stupid to say the least. But given better traffic flow than the normal parking lot, keeping right is an important driving habit to make. Like I said, many drivers in the PNW have never felt the importance to learn this habit. Keeping right allows for faster vehicles (those who actually do 70 in a 70mph zone) to maintain their velocity. Allowing for these faster moving vehicles via slow vehicles keeping right actually has the effect to improve the overall traffic flow, as there are less vehicles braking from 70 to 55 for the granny in her Prius camping in the left lane. This reduces the amount of lane changes required on a daily drive, which also reduces unnecessary braking resulting in faster travel times. It is a basic convention that is followed in Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and even parts of Oregon, not to mention the entire middle of the country. Of course many emergency vehicles would benefit from having a lane easily accessible in the event an emergency occurs. Do you want to depend on an ambulance trying to get through 405 rush hour traffic? Does everybody instinctively move right? No way...
Mike Tanksley February 20, 2013 at 11:56 PM
Question: Is it street-legal for the tires of vehicles to extend past their fender wells?
Dane Ferrell February 21, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Well Susan, one of the basics from driving school is you pass on the left, and slower traffic yield to the right.
Lauren Padgett (Editor) February 21, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Good question Mike! We've added it to our list. Stay tuned!
RockBerry February 21, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Oh please, as soon as you get open freeway then you are afraid to step on the gas. I see it everyday from the right lane. The slower driver moves over and the aggressive driver now has room to go as fast as they want and they end up going the same speed as the person who moved over. Everybody is in a hurry until they are the leader.
stephanie February 21, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Really RockBerry? Do you know me? I love some open freeway! Makes my commute a LOT faster, driving from Lakewood to Sumner and back every day. It can take 20-25 minutes, driving how I would prefer to drive, or it could take closer to 40, if I'm stuck behind slow people who block up the freeway. I would haul as$ past all the slow drivers because you never know when one of them is going to pop back into the left lane! I also hate when someone moves over as if to pass and then doesn't! INFURIATING!!!!
stephanie February 21, 2013 at 03:08 AM
The law makes complete sense. It is to improve the flow of traffic. Keep up with the flow of traffic or move to the right so everyone else can. You can't ticket people who can't go faster than the people in front of them, but you CAN ticket the person CAUSING everyone to go so slow. If people weren't driving so slowly, for whatever reason, then it wouldn't be a problem. Sounds like you're one of the people who thinks they're entitled to drive in the left lane, no matter how fast you're going. If your car can't get up to freeway speed or you're uncomfortable driving in the weather, stay off the freeway! If you don't NEED to be somewhere during rush hour, don't drive during rush hour. If you're not keeping up with the flow of traffic or are content to go the same speed as people in the right lane, move into the right lane to let everyone else pass. Problem solved.
Mark Bennett February 21, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Fully loaded semi tractor trailer rigs do 10,000 times the damage to the roads as do passenger cars but do not pay 10,000 time the taxes, for if they did, they would be paying a tax of about $450 PER GALLON. Because these trucks are not paying their fair share, passenger cars get stuck subsidizing the trucks and we have roads that are beat all to heck and then have to cope with the frustration of potholes and having the roads periodically resurfaced. I want to see legislation that mandates trucks pay their fair share or stay off the road. This would have a multitude of benefits for society including: 1) freeing up lanes for cars, 2) reducing accidents and deaths, 3) lowering the price of fuel for there would be less demand, 4) putting long-haul shipments back onto trains where they belong, since trains move freight MUCH LESS EXPENSIVELY than do trucks 5) With more freight on rails, the train companies would get more business and traditionally and historically the freight divisions of RRs subsidized passenger travel for the PR value of it, therefore we could eliminate ScamTrak saving the taxpayers money and 6) greatly reduce air pollution. Small box trucks could handle the local deliveries to grocery stores etc. If such legislation were passed there would seldom be semis in the left, center or right lanes. The trucking lobby has abused the taxpayers for too long and I think its subsidy needs to end. PS: I do not work for any RR and never have.
Jesse Ray February 21, 2013 at 11:36 PM
I do not see the benefit to increasing the tax burden on commerce - aka freight. The end user will bear the cost increases, not the corporation. Really transportation and infrastructure should be #2 on the government's funding obligations. #1 Education. The average citizen should not see their taxes go up to pay for the most essential duties of government. Our government is over-expanded, bloated, and incapable of managing itself as it is today. More $$ will not change this fact. The best government is the leanest government.
Pauline February 22, 2013 at 12:06 AM
I have to agree with Susan on this one. Sure, it sounds good "in theory"...only go in the left lane if you're passing. And I'm sure Susan and I would both say that makes sense if you're traveling on a wide open freeway, 3 lanes, moderate traffic, fine, stay in the right or middle lane. But the point she was trying to make (that I agree with) is that it's a ridiculous blanket statement to say "never go in the left lane unless you're passing" when you consider, say, I-5 northbound past Boeing Field at 7:45am. PLEASE!! Really, you're supposed to stay out of the left lane unless you're passing? EVERYONE is driving 15 mph...so we're all supposed to just leave the left lane empty? For what? I agree that it's a fine rule in SOME situations but not ALL. And no, for the record, I'm not "one of those people" who toodles along in the left lane all the time. More often than not I'm in the center lane, going as fast as everyone else, whether that's 15 mph or 70 mph.
stephanie February 22, 2013 at 07:43 AM
Pauline, I think the question would be WHY is everyone driving 15 mph? What is holding up the first person in the line that is causing traffic to be completely backed up? What can be done about that? Surely something has to be the cause. I mainly drive 512, rather than I-5 and 512 is only 2 lanes, so it gets VERY frustrating. I-5 has 3+ lanes in most places, but it IS a very busy area. If only everyone paid more attention to their surroundings and the cars around them, this wouldn't be so much of a problem. If you were in the left lane going exactly 60 mph in a 60 mph zone and someone came up on you and obviously wanted to drive faster but couldn't pass because of a few horribly placed slow drivers, or a line of cars going slower, and there was no one in front of you, what would you do? Would you move over to let the person pass, speed up, or keep going at the same speed? This is the problem! And why are people going so slowly in the right lanes, causing other people to need to drive in the left lanes? So because a few people can't follow the rules of the road, traffic gets held up causing delays and accidents. People just need to pay attention and be courteous! Obviously the police know when to enforce the law as well, due to timing/rush hour and the amount of cars on the road, it's not feasible to enforce this during rush hour, as they would probably prefer to keep traffic moving.. I'm not trying to say don't drive in the left lane ever, just use wisely! :)
JuneGloom February 22, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Even if you disagree with the law, other drivers are expecting you to follow it. Left lane for passing, right lane for slower vehicles. Pretty basic driver's ed. I understand drivers may find themselves in the left lane, just put your blinker on and move aside to allow traffic through. There are parts of the country where this law is taken more seriously, and you would get a ticket driving in the left land without passing.
Justin Evans February 24, 2013 at 08:29 PM
I believe it is, providing there are mud flaps that still cover the entire width of the tire. I'm sure there is a limit as to how far out a tire can stick, but I do know it's not illegal in most rational circumstances. I know this for having been with someone when cited for this very law. No mud flaps beyond the wheel well when the tire itself was beyond it.
phillip February 25, 2013 at 02:43 PM
seroiusly MARK BENNETT.. do you know anything about trucking? Those loaded semi-trucks also pay road taxes, learn a little before you go blabbing about stuff you know nothing about.
MB February 25, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Be very careful about posting to Mark Bennett. He has a tendancy to bully everyone and work hard to take over posts like this so he can spew his extreme beliefs.
lori nelson March 05, 2013 at 04:47 PM
True, semi-trucks pay a separate "road tax" but does that give them the right to abuse the law concerning lane use in this state. I drive the I-5 corridor frequently. They drive in the LEFT lane consistently, not to pass. Last night traveling to Mt. Vernon truck in left lane... his speed 70mph. He did not move over for 10 miles. He was not the only abuser last night, he just drove the farthest. They block line of sight, speed and move into other lanes un-intentionally. The state patrol needs to start enforcing the 3 & 4 lane rule in this state. You never experience this while driving in Ore. or Calif.
Jerry Omli March 05, 2013 at 05:15 PM
I have always wanted to hear what the tail gaters are thinking when I'm doing the speed-limit+ a little. Mind you, tail gating is also illegal. So what exactly were you planning to do after you 'passed' the semi going the maximum legal speed of 70? (Since you did not pass on the right -legal-, I assume that there was a lot of traffic.) Is there some law that gives you the right to 'speed'? I really just don't understand the process in your head. Can you explain why you can break the speed limit?
lori nelson March 06, 2013 at 06:08 AM
J. O. Tail-gaters aren't thinking anything, They have bad driving habits to begin with plus don't have the knowledge that they will never be able to avoid a rear end collision if lead car has to suddenly stop. On another note when did 70 mph become the maximum legal speed for a semi-truck? I never wrote that I passed the semi-truck. Excuse me, you must be responding to an earlier post some where in this thread. My error.

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