Trooper 1st Class Chris Niehus found five “slowpoke” motorists on Augusta-area roads Tuesday. But like so many others who have been stopped by officers enforcing Georgia’s revamped slowpoke law, all five drivers left with just a warning.
The Georgia State Patrol trooper said now is not the time to start issuing citations. In fact, since the law took effect July 1, he said, he hasn’t issued a single ticket.
Now’s the time to educate.
“What I’ve found is three out of the five I’ve stopped had no idea about the law,” said Niehus, who belongs to the agency’s Grovetown post. “Two had heard about (it) but didn’t know that it had come into effect already.”
Those numbers, he said, tell him more people need to know the intricacies of the law before officers ramp up enforcement.
Signed into action by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 15, Georgia House Bill 459 was crafted to create more clarity in the language in the state code regarding impeding traffic flow. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, the former head of the Georgia State Patrol.
The amended law states that no vehicle should occupy a passing lane, meaning the most left-hand lane, when its driver “knows or should reasonably know that he or she is being overtaken in such lane from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed.”
Violators could face as much as a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. The actual amount of the fine is set by the State Court judge, said Kristy Key, the accounting supervisor at the Richmond County Clerk of Court’s office. Key was unable to confirm Tuesday whether a fine has been set for Richmond County.
The law includes some provisions, though. Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin said it does not apply to situations in which traffic conditions or congestion prevent a motorist from moving into the right-hand lane, or when weather and other road hazards force motorists to use the passing lane.
Like state troopers, Richmond County sheriff’s deputies also have eased their way into enforcing the law.
“It’s not fair to the public because they don’t keep up with the laws like we do,” Lamkin said. “They don’t know that it went into effect July 1; they don’t know when the House bill was passed or when the bill was put into session. It’s not fair to them to start enforcing a law they don’t know a thing about.”
Lamkin said the law is something that will greatly affect the Augusta area, which is crisscrossed with major thoroughfares. In the past, Interstate 20 and Bobby Jones Expressway have been bogged down with slow drivers.
Law enforcement agencies hope the law will also increase driver safety.
“What we’ve seen are a lot of aggressive-driving cases,” Niehus said. “There are people who tend to do the posted speed limit or below, and the driver behind them is in a hurry and starts flashing lights and honking the horn … That could cause a traffic crash.”
Consistently enforcing the law is one area that officers shouldn’t struggle with, Lamkin said, because it is used at the officer’s discretion.
“Common sense will go a long way,” he said.
Though Niehus said he can already see a shift in driver behavior, Lamkin said it might take more time before motorists are truly mindful of the new law.
“It may be six months to a year, I think, before we start seeing a difference with people knowing about the law,” he said.