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driving concerns

Your story on passing rules did not address an important question. On a highway with multiple lanes going in the same direction, is the left lane for passing only? If so, should cars avoid it except to pass? I see cars going exactly the speed limit staying in the left lane. – Kee, Vancouver

In British Columbia, you have no right to stay in the left lane if there are other drivers coming up behind you. But the law doesn’t specifically say that the left lane is for passing only, police said.

Section 151.1 of B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act states that on roads with two or more lanes and a speed limit of at least 80 kilometres an hour, “a driver of a vehicle in the leftmost lane must exit the lane on the approach of another vehicle in that lane – if it is safe to do so.”

There are exceptions. For instance, if a car’s coming up behind you, you can stay there if you’re passing a third vehicle or if you’re about to make a left turn.

“The left lane is intended for passing. If you’re in the left lane, you can’t drive parallel to traffic in the right lane going the same speed or slower,” said RCMP Corporal Mike Halskov, a spokesman for B.C. Highway Patrol. “It’s a $157 fine and three [demerit] points.”

In 2021, there were 60 charges laid in B.C. for improper use of the leftmost lane.

“It’s tough to enforce because it has to be seen by a police officer,” Halskov said. “We can’t go by somebody’s word.”

While along B.C. highways, there are signs saying “keep right, let others pass,” the law doesn’t specifically say you can’t be in the left lane if nobody is approaching from behind.

“As long as you are not going slower than traffic on the left, there’s nothing to say you can’t hang out there,” Halskov said. “That said, if the posted speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour and you’re [going slower], you need to move over.”

While you should get out of the left lane any time a car is coming up behind you, that car isn’t allowed to bully you out of the way by tailgating, Halskov said.

They could face charges for driving too closely – if an officer catches them.

“It’s best to just get out of the way,” Halskov said. “If they’re going 130 kilometres per hour, let them – they may get caught speeding later on.”

If the highway is empty but you want to stay left in case a deer darts out from the brush, for instance – it’s fine to stay there as long as there’s nobody behind you, the province’s website says.

Keep right?

The rules vary across Canada. In Quebec, the law bans driving in the leftmost lane on highways with limits over 80 kilometres an hour unless you’re passing or turning left. You can’t even be in it if you’re the only vehicle on the highway, said Sergeant Audrey-Anne Bilodeau, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s provincial police force, Sûreté du Québec.

But it’s also illegal for a “crazy driver” to follow too closely to force them out of that lane, she said. “The way he acts is more dangerous because it could cause a collision.”

In Nova Scotia, the law says a vehicle “shall normally be driven in the lane nearest the right-hand edge or curb of the highway when such lane is available for travel.”

In most other provinces, the laws tend to say traffic going below the speed limit should keep right, without specifying that the left lane is for passing only.

In Alberta, there are signs saying “slower traffic keep right” and “keep right except to pass,” depending on the location, Corporal Troy Savinkoff, Alberta RCMP spokesman, said in an e-mail. If you disobey either, you could face a $243 fine.

Even when there aren’t signs saying keep right except to pass, it’s good practice to stay in the right lane unless you’re passing, said Martin Wiseman, chief instructor with the Alberta Motor Association (AMA). “It’s not your responsibility to police other road users to stay within the speed limit,” he said.

In Ontario, the law doesn’t specifically say that the left lane is for passing only, said Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, a spokesman for the Ontario Provincial Police highway safety division. “You can drive in any and all lanes, but if someone’s trying to pass you, you have to get to the right to let them pass you on the left.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.