I think we've all shared the frustrating experience of driving on I-35, or another similar highway, and approaching a car in the left lane failing to go the speed of traffic. Meanwhile, traffic in the right lane isn't moving much faster so you're stuck behind everyone because one car refuses to vacate the left lane and allow you to pass.

This seems to happen to me about every time I head down to the Twin Cities and I likely don't need to tell you that it is very frustrating. It also happens to be a traffic violation in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states with "left-lane" laws otherwise known as "slowpoke" laws.

Based on what I've witnessed, and discussions with others who spend more time on the road than I do, I think there is still a misconception with a lot of people who think that as long as they're doing the speed limit they can drive in the left lane. That is not necessarily true, so perhaps a refresher will benefit us all as with even more cars about to hit the road this summer.

Revised Minnesota Left-Lane Law

For years, the requirement to move over and allow vehicles to pass in the left lane has been law in Minnesota. However, in 2019 the state revised the language of the law to modernize it to account for current traffic.

In a nutshell, revised Minnesota's revised left-lane law says:

  • You can pass others safely in the left lane while obeying the speed limit.
  • You can, and must, get back into the right lane after safely passing another vehicle.
  • You can, and must, move out of the left lane so other vehicles can safely pass.
  • You can report slow drivers by calling 911 and giving a description of the vehicle, its license plate, and the location where you last saw it.
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Those caught violating the revised law are subject to a $50 fine plus $75 in court costs.

Things that are prohibited include:

  • Driving slower than the pace of traffic in the left lane.
  • Exceeding the speed limit to pass another vehicle in the left lane.
  • Pass someone who is going the speed limit ahead of you.

Minnesota even produced a helpful video that explains the state's left-lane law.

Wisconsin Left-Lane Law

Wisconsin has a similar "slowpoke" law in place, which reserves the left lane for passing other vehicles.

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Wisconsin Statue § 346.05(3) states in part that Wisconsin. drivers are required to drive on the right half of the roadway except when overtaking and passing another vehicle, preparing for a left turn, or when an obstruction makes it necessary to drive in the left-hand lane. This law pertains to all traffic, including semis.

Violating this law in Wisconsin can result in a citation, which carries a fine of $213.10 and adds four points to the driver’s license.

Do Left-Lane Laws Condone Speeding?

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, their left-lane laws include wording like "normal speed of traffic". So, does that mean traveling at any speed up to the posted speed limit? That doesn't seem likely.

According to the M.W.L Law Firm,  studies have shown that 98% of drivers exceed the speed limit. Twenty-one percent of drivers think it’s perfectly safe to exceed the speed limit by 5 MPH. Forty-three percent saw no risk in going 10 MPH over, and 36% said there’s no harm in driving 20 MPH over the speed limit.

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That would lead us to believe that in more instances than not, we can expect traffic to be moving faster than the posted speed limit. That doesn't mean everyone should drive at excessive speeds, but if traffic is moving faster than the posted speed limit, these left-lane laws are even more important for public safety. They allow slower drivers to go their own pace on the right without being a hindrance to faster drivers, who ideally have a clear left lane to pass.

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