To pass, to weave, perchance to be trapped behind a 16-wheeler.
That's the Hamletlike quandary facing drivers on New Jersey's crowded highways.
And now there could be a new rub: a stiffer fine for those who linger in the left lane.
A bill to increase fines for "failure to keep right" passed the state Senate Transportation Committee last week. The measure, which State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) has sponsored to deter road rage, would increase the maximum fine to $300 from the current $200, and the minimum fine to $100 from the current $50.
New Jersey already has one of the nation's toughest "keep-right" laws. Motorists must stay out of the left lane except to pass, and trucks and buses are forbidden to travel in the far-left lane on highways with three or more lanes in one direction.
Pennsylvania has a similar law, though it permits drivers to use the left lane to get out of the way of merging traffic or "when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow."
Most states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code and require drivers to keep right when going slower than the normal speed of traffic.
At least 30 states permit drivers to travel in the left lane at the normal speed of traffic even if they obstruct other vehicles. In Florida in 2005, then-Gov. Jeb Bush rejected legislation that would have forced those dawdlers to move out of the way.
The measure sought "to provide relief for those traveling at high rates of speed, or possessed of emotional intemperance, at the expense of cautious and careful drivers," Bush wrote in a letter accompanying his veto.
But in New Jersey, land of driven drivers, nothing is more annoying than a slowpoke in the passing lane.
The Norcross proposal - which would apply to any road with "clearly marked lanes" - would use some of the fine proceeds to install more signs at the entrances to New Jersey to alert out-of-staters to keep right. Or else.
Being trapped behind a slower vehicle is "one of the biggest triggers for road rage," Norcross said. "Some people have told me, when they hear about the fines we're proposing, that it's not high enough. They say, 'It should be execution.'
"There's nothing more frustrating than having a long line of traffic stuck behind someone in the left lane," Norcross said. "People are in a hurry. . . ."
The bill passed the Transportation Committee by a 3-1 vote. The lone dissenter was State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R., Morris).
"We already have a statute on the books. Just enforce the statute," Pennacchio said. He said motorists face a two-point penalty on their driving records and a possible insurance surcharge for breaking the law. Increasing the fine, he said, is "draconian."
And, he said, motorists trying to stay out of the left lane except to pass can create a danger by weaving from lane to lane.
"By the time I pass and go in, I've got to go back out and pass again. There may be more of a danger with switching back and forth," Pennacchio said.
Last year, 10,399 tickets were issued to motorists for violating the keep-right law.
Tracy Noble, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey office of the motorists' organization AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the motor club supported Norcross' bill.
"At the same time, we do not condone people speeding up in the left lane just to avoid being the slowpoke," Noble said.
Besides its "keep-right" law, she noted that New Jersey has a "move-over" law, which requires motorists to move left, out of the right lane, to give room to disabled vehicles or emergency vehicles on the road's shoulder.
"The best lane of travel is the middle lane," Noble said.
Sgt. Brian Polite, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police, said the law enforcement agency did not have a position on the Norcross proposal. But Polite said motorists hogging the left lane "definitely is a problem."
"We definitely do urge people to stay out of the left lane unless they're passing," Polite said.
Norcross said he expected his proposal, Senate Bill 530, to make it to the Senate floor in about two weeks.
An identical bill has been introduced in the state Assembly by Gilbert Wilson (D., Camden).
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