All roads lead to legislation

Left-lane laggards, pavement-shredding studded tires are on the agenda in Salem

Have you ever uttered a few choice words when stuck behind one of those annoying drivers who camps out in the left lane of the freeway and refuses to yield to vehicles overtaking from the rear? If so, you'll cheer for a bill before the Legislature this session.

If you swear by studded tires in winter, you'll be less enthused about a proposal to charge motorists who use them for the wear and tear they inflict on the roads.

Read the bills

Click on this link,, and enter the bill type and measure number in the search fields. Studded tire bills are House Bills 2277, 2278 and 2369; the right-lane measure is Senate Bill 511.

Lawmakers should approve both measures, but steer clear of one studded-tire bill that would create a permit system more complicated than it needs to be.

First, the fast-lane hoggers.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who commutes to Salem daily during the legislative session, wants Oregon law to emulate Washington's, where all traffic is restricted to the right lane except when passing another vehicle. Oregon law now applies only to trucks and to cars pulling trailers.

The rule would not apply when traffic volumes were heavy.

We've all experienced the irritation of being delayed by a driver who insists on staying in the left lane while driving at precisely the speed limit — or less. Yes, we know, no one should exceed the speed limit. We also know that, in practice, many drivers set their cruise controls ever so slightly above 65. Not that we would ever do such a thing.

But if you want to drive at precisely the limit — or slower — there is a place to do that. It's called the right lane.

The subject of studded tires is sure to get folks riled up, especially if someone questions their usefulness.

Those who use them swear by them, and will denounce any effort to regulate them or anyone who suggests the limited traction improvement they offer isn't worth the damage they do to road surfaces.

That damage is significant. State highway officials estimate that studs cause $40 million in damage to pavement every winter.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has introduced two bills; one would charge a flat fee of $10 per tire, while the other would require a permit to buy them, with the fee set by dividing the damage estimate by the number of studded tires in the state. The latter idea sounds far more complicated than it needs to be, and probably costly to administer, as well.

A fee of $10 per tire would not be a great hardship — most drivers keep a set of studs for more than one winter.

So far, no one is suggesting studded tires should be banned — although nonstudded all-season tires offer far better traction than they once did, without the wear and tear on roads.

Heavy trucks damage roadways, too — and they pay a weight/mile tax to compensate for it. It's only fair that drivers who use studs should chip in, too.

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