Jim Ross: Proposed left-lane law is really about Ohioans

January 21, 2019

This past week people were buzzing about a bill introduced in the West Virginia Legislature to allow law enforcement officers to ticket people who hog the passing lane when faster traffic wants to move on by. The real intent is to clear the highways of Ohio drivers.

This is one of those bright shiny objects that’s introduced every year but never gets anywhere. The Clear Interstate 64 of Ohioans law comes up every so often but it gets nowhere because it repeats something that’s already in state law.

What’s really going on here is the continuing tension between the way West Virginians and Ohioans are taught to drive. As someone who earned his first license in Ohio but who has had a West Virginia license about twice as long as he had an Ohio license, let me explain the differences.

First, Ohioans are trained to obey speed limits. An Ohioan interprets “Speed limit 70” as 70 being the maximum speed allowable by law. West Virginians interpret the same sign as being the minimum speed limit. The Ohio State Highway Patrol is everywhere, and so are small-town police. Except for special enforcement times and zones, you rarely see police patrolling four lane highways in West Virginia.

There’s also the idea in West Virginia that police will give you 9 mph over the posted speed limit. Therefore, West Virginians tend to drive faster. And it’s not just on four-lane roads. Try driving Route 2 from Huntington to Point Pleasant at 55 mph and see how many cars sit on your rear bumper.

Which is another thing about West Virginia. People on this side of the river apparently have never heard of tailgating unless it’s something you do in a football stadium parking lot.

If you are driving through Ohio in a car with out-of-state plates, be very mindful of speed limits. From time to time, the state is full of speed traps.

Back in the 1980s I had to cover a couple of sessions of mayor’s court in Lawrence County, Ohio. I don’t know if it still works this way, but at that time the mayor and the village’s lawyer would convene a monthly court session to deal with traffic tickets and local offenses. The lawyer would say this is not a court of record. If you were ticketed and paid your fine, no points would be assessed against your license. You could appeal to Municipal Court, which is a court of record, and take your chances there.

So at that time, paying a ticket in small-town Ohio was almost like buying a one-time license to speed.

Another thing about Ohioans is that they are taught to pick a lane and stay in it. None of this weaving in and out to see who gets to be first in line when the next light turns red.

West Virginians must keep in mind that Interstate 64 between Huntington and Charleston was designed in the 1950s. That might explain the short entry and approach ramps and the downright dangerous situations at some of them. The bridge over the Kanawha River at St. Albans and Nitro is a case in point. Heading east toward Charleston, you had better get in the left lane somewhere around Scott Depot if you don’t want the white-knuckle experience of traffic entering from the right just as you get to the bridge.

Coming back this way, you need to claim your spot in the left lane around Cross Lanes if you don’t want to deal with merging traffic from Nitro.

So yeah, Ohioans and West Virginians live in two different worlds when it comes to the perception and acceptance of traffic laws. The same goes for ramps and pawpaws. Two states; two different wild foods to appreciate. We just have to learn how to get along on the highway, which will likely happen ... probably never.

Jim Ross is opinion page editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email in jross@herald-dispatch.com.