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driving concerns

I was just having a discussion with some people about the "fast lane" on the highway and how you're not supposed to drive there for long distances. But at high volumes on the highway, what's the best practice? Can drivers use that lane, too? – Danielle, Halifax

Sometimes, the left lane is the right choice – even if you're not turning left or passing another car.

"Drivers are required in Nova Scotia to drive in the right lane unless passing, but there are always exceptions," said Cpl. Jennifer Clarke, Nova Scotia RCMP spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "It's a best practice to move to the left if it's safe when you're approaching an on-ramp and there is a vehicle entering the highway – not a requirement but a best practice. If the right lane has some sort of hazard, it's reasonable to drive in the left lane until you've passed the hazard."

Section 111 of the Motor Vehicle Act states: "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"

Not sticking to the right is a $237.50 fine. And, if there's a sign telling you to remain in the right lane except to pass, you could also get a $180 ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign.

So if you're driving in the left lane for long stretches in Nova Scotia, will you get charged?

"Charging someone for driving in the left lane would be unusual, however, there are always unique situations where that may be appropriate for the circumstances," Clarke said. "One that comes to mind is a scenario where you have someone attempting to pass and the slower vehicle refuses to leave the left lane."

Chances are, you'd be let off with a warning instead, said Halifax police.

"Officers do have discretion and will often use the opportunity to educate the driver as to what the motor vehicle act rules are, especially if it is the driver's first similar type offence," said Constable Carol McIssac, Halifax police spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Even if you're going at, or above, the speed it's a good idea to keep the left lane clear.

"Driving at the speed limit doesn't entitle you to 'camp' in the left lane which means to stay in the lane indefinitely," says the Nova Scotia drivers' handbook. "If you remain in the left lane, other drivers may try to pass you on the right. Passing on the right is not as safe as on the left because it is much more difficult to predict what everyone is going to do."

Rules strict in Quebec, lax in Ontario

The rules vary across Canada. In Quebec, the law bans driving in the left-most lane on highways with limits over 80 km/h unless you're passing or turning left. You can't even be in it if you're the only vehicle on the highway.

In B.C., you have to get out of the left lane if another car is coming behind you.

But other provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, just require slower traffic to keep right.

In Ontario, section 147 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) states any "vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane…"

It's an $85 fine, plus fees. But the "normal speed of traffic" doesn't mean whatever the cars around you are doing. It's the posted speed limit.

What if both lanes are full of traffic? Do you stick to the left because it's going just a little bit faster than the traffic in the right lane?

"You need to drive in the lane that gives you the best space, which means the best following distance from the car in front of you," said Angelo DiCicco, director of Young Drivers of Canada's advanced driving centre. "If you're driving 100 and everyone else is doing 120, you're in the wrong lane. If people are passing you on the right, then you're not going with the flow of traffic and you're in the wrong lane."

Another reason to switch to the left? If you can't see what's in the lane ahead of you, DiCicco said.

"If you're behind a big fat truck, you might not be able to see what's in front of it and end up in an exit lane," DiCicco said. "Or maybe you're behind an SUV and you can't see through its tinted windows."

If you are in the left lane and there's a car on your tail, get out of the way when you safely can – even if that car's breaking the speed limit, DiCicco said.

"You should have seen the guy coming up about three-quarters of a kilometre behind you," DiCicco said. "If you're not out of that lane, you're the problem."

But switching to the safest lane occasionally is lot different than constantly weaving in and out of lanes to try to get wherever you're going faster, DiCicco said.

"Every time you change lanes, you're elevating your level of risk," he said. "You really, on average, can only go as fast as the speed of traffic. So, people on a 1,000-kilometre journey may end up saving like 13 minutes – but doing three times as much braking and three times as many lane changes. Is that 13 minutes worth a crash?"

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