New law increases legal highway passing speed

One House bill has passed the Wyoming Legislature in the fast lane and was signed by the governor March 9 to become a law starting July 1.

Wyoming legislators passed House Bill 21, which will allow drivers on two-lane highways to exceed the posted speed limit, if it is at or exceeds 50 mph, to pass vehicles traveling under that speed and safely return to the right-hand lane.

The majority of legislators supported the bill, agreeing with its sponsor Rep. Del W. McOmie, R-Fremont, but one House representative and two senators voted against it. Republican Rep. David L. Zwonitzer of Laramie County and Wyoming Peace Officers Association lobbyist Sam Powell found issues with its enforceability.

Two-lane highway pileups inspired McOmie to create the bill, he said. When one vehicle is traveling under the posted speed limit, then multiple vehicles become trapped behind the slow one, he said. Many of the vehicles' drivers are concerned if they speed to pass safely, then they will could be ticketed. Eventually, one driver will come along and speed past the lineup, which is not only against the law but also very dangerous, McOmie said.

Safety is the main issue in McOmie's mind. Coming from Fremont County, McOmie deals with a lot of gravel trucks, semitrailers and farm equipment that lead to traffic buildups and safety concerns, he said. McOmie said more than one representative shared an experience of broken windshields from being trapped behind gravel trucks.

McOmie decided allowing drivers to speed up to a maximum of 10 miles above the speed limit would keep the flow of traffic moving safely.

Concerning the enforceability of the law for Highway Patrol officers, McOmie said he had spoken with many who said they already make reasonable decisions concerning passing under the law's stated circumstances. McOmie responded the law would "codify in law what is practiced."

McOmie stressed the law's purpose was not to allow or encourage speeding, but rather to provide means for quick and safe passing of vehicles that hold up traffic.

Rep. Zwonitzer of Laramie County voted against the bill in the House's second and third readings. Concerned with the difficulties the bill would cause in the law enforcement community's ability to enforce it, Zwonitzer said he felt that "they do a really good job making decisions concerning passing zones," and he does not want to give people more incentive to speed.

Zwonitzer agreed with lobbyist Powell that the typical Wyoming resident would probably be unconcerned with the fine points of the law, therefore causing more roadside debates with officers. Different interpretations of wording in the law such as a "reasonable distance" and "as soon as practicable" will cause confusion, Powell said. "The terminology in the bill is way too nebulous," he added.

As a retired Highway Patrol colonel, Powell said he has "a lot of respect and trust in the law enforcement." Officers know how to make reasonable decisions concerning gray area like slight increases in speed to safely pass on a two-lane highway, Powell said.

When dealing with traffic, there is the "letter of the law versus the spirit of the law," Powell said. "This bill is stretching the spirit of the law."

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