Driving at excessive speeds can be unsafe and, as many drivers have experienced, lead to speeding tickets and hefty fines. But driving unreasonably slow in the presence of faster-moving traffic, too, can create safety hazards. So states also have laws that prohibit driving so slowly as to impede the normal flow of traffic.
This article explains how impeding traffic is defined, the circumstances under which a motorist could get a ticket for driving too slowly, and some possible penalties for an impeding traffic ticket.
All states have laws prohibiting the unsafe impediment of normal traffic. However, states have come up with lots of different types of laws related to driving too slowly. The laws of some states have generic prohibitions on impeding traffic by driving too slow, while the laws in other states specifically define the scenarios where a driver can be ticketed for impeding traffic.
Many states have laws that state something like, "no person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law."
These types of general statutes were designed to apply to all situations and roadways. However, because these statutes are so general, they give officers quite a bit of discretion in determining whether a driver is going so slowly as to impede traffic. There really aren't any precise guidelines as to what scenarios could lead to a ticket.
Most states have laws that specify certain situations where a driver can be ticketed for impeding traffic. Some states have these more specific rules in addition to the general-type statutes discussed above, and other states have both specific and general impeding statutes.
Some states have minimum speed limits for certain roadways. For instance, a state might have a law that establishes 40 miles per hour as the minimum speed limit on freeways, unless the conditions (like traffic and weather) make that speed unsafe.
For highways and other roads with at least two lanes in each direction, drivers are generally required to stay in the right lanes unless passing another vehicle. A violation of this rule is often called a "failure to yield" or some similar name.
Drivers aren't often stopped by police for this type of failure to yield unless they are preventing other traffic from passing. The most common impeding violation for a multi-lane highway is when two slow-moving vehicles travel side-by-side and prevent all other vehicles from passing.
On roadways with only one lane in each direction, a slow-moving vehicle can develop a long line of followers quickly. And, on roads where passing isn't allowed, there's basically nothing the following cars can do except wait.
To prevent slow-moving vehicles from impeding traffic on these types of roadways, some states have laws that require drivers to use available turnouts once a certain number of vehicles (three to five) are waiting behind. Failing to utilize a turnout when safe and prudent to do so could also result in a ticket for violating a general impeding traffic statute.
Impeding traffic is generally only a traffic infraction. Penalties normally include fines of about $15 to $250 and possibly license demerit points.
However, if your traffic impediment was the proximate cause of a traffic accident, you could be looking at more serious penalties and civil liability.
Sometimes, driving slowly is the best and safest option. So there are times when a person can lawfully drive well under the speed limit. To defend against an impeding ticket, the driver is generally going to want to present evidence that shows his or her speed was safe under the circumstances existing at the time.
Typically, a driver who's trying to beat an impeding ticket in court will be relying on one of the following factors to justify driving at a slow speed:
As you might have figured out, there's a lot of grey area with impeding traffic violations. Generally, your best defense is to provide the court with a reasonable explanation as to why you were driving more slowly than normal. For example, if the sun was in your eyes and you couldn't see well, it would probably be prudent to slow down even if drivers around you want to go faster.