Editor’s note: Every week a Lake Oswego police officer answers your questions in this space. Send questions to Reporter Cliff Newell at [email protected] com or call him at 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

“Why don’t they give people tickets who are driving under 40 miles per hour in the fast lane along Country Club Road?”

There are only a few traffic offenses that seem to draw the ire of both my law enforcement brethren and my personal friends alike, and “driving slow in the fast lane” is right at the top of that list. Trust me, we understand the aggravation felt when we encounter motorists on the road that seem to be holding everyone up for no reason. At first glance, these drivers appear so oblivious to the back-up we think they’re causing, we wonder to ourselves, “How in the world did this guy get a license?” Inevitably that wonder turns to anger as we convince ourselves, “They must be doing it on purpose!”  

As you can imagine, this leads drivers to display their frustration by engaging in even worse driving behavior. That includes following the slow vehicle too closely (ORS 811.485), drafting behind them like they were Jeff Gordon in a NASCAR race, then improperly using their horn (ORS 815.225) as they conduct a vehicular symphony of steady sound blasts to communicate their displeasure with the driver ahead of them. Naturally, the slow-moving driver finally recognizes the frustration they’re causing and does exactly what you think they’d do when made aware of their driving: they brake check the unhappy driver. What follows are the “road rage” traffic complaint calls to the police from both drivers, each detailing the poor driving observed by the other. 

We don’t want this to be the scenario that unfolds with our drivers as the potentially dangerous consequences could be substantial for everyone involved. So, as a police officer, when we come across driving behavior like this, we try and view the situation through the most applicable driving statutes. The most applicable is ORS 811.315 — Failure of a slow driver to drive on the right. This law states, in part:

1. A person commits the offense of failure of a slow driver to drive on the right if the person is operating a vehicle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and the person fails to drive:

a) In the right-hand lane available for traffic; or

b) As close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway;

2. This section does not apply under any of the following circumstances:

a) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing passing in ORS 811.410 to 811.425.

b) When preparing to turn left at an intersection, alley, or private road or driveway.

The other law most applicable is ORS 811.130 — Impeding traffic. This law states, in part:

1. A person commits the offense of impeding traffic if the person drives a motor vehicle or a combination of motor vehicles in a manner that impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.  

2. A person is not in violation of the offense described under this section if the person is proceeding in a manner needed for safe operation.

3. Proceeding in a manner needed for safe operation includes but is not necessarily limited to:

a) Momentarily stopping to allow oncoming traffic to pass before making a right-hand or left-hand turn.

b) Momentarily stopping in preparation of, or moving at an extremely slow pace while, negotiating an exit from the road.

4. A person is not in violation of the offense described under this section if the person is proceeding as part of a funeral procession under the direction of a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

As with any traffic offense, law enforcement officers will use their discretion when deciding whether or not to make a traffic stop and issue a citation. The goal is to bring attention to the observed driving behavior and, if we feel it’s necessary, issue a citation. So in this scenario, the police officer is going to look at the severity of the speed discrepancy, the actual or perceived traffic hazard the slow-moving vehicle creates, whether or not the speed traveled is disproportionate to what the traffic flow should be and what reasoning the driver has, or doesn’t have, for why they’re traveling slower than the posted speed limit in the left lane. While most violations do not require any intent on the part of the motorist to commit the violation, known as “no culpable mental state,” we still try to get an idea as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re lost and looking for a certain street or address. Maybe they missed the last posted speed limit sign and still think it is a 30 mph zone, not a 40 mph zone. Or maybe they’re just an inattentive driver.  

Whatever the reason is, officers try and weigh all of the known factors before making a decision on how to proceed. If we feel enforcement is appropriate, we will, and do, write the citation. It is no different than officers deciding whether or not to write a citation to the driver going five miles over the speed limit. It comes down to the officer deciding what they think is appropriate.

— Officer Clayton Simon

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