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DRIVING IN THE WRONG LANE: A CASE STUDY IN THE SPREAD OF FAKE NEWS

Just in time for hitting the busy Fourth of July weekend road, Mississippians experienced a real live dose of fake news. The cause: wrong information about new rules of the road published by someone in a major law enforcement agency. The effect: many Mississippians from Desoto County to the Gulf Coast slowed it down and hung to the right side of the road out of respect for a nonexistent new “left lane law” being widely promoted in news reports throughout the State.

On or about June 28, 2017, multiple news organizations began reporting several new road laws to become effective July 1st. One of the earliest reports was by north Mississippi’s WTVA, to the effect that a new law would prevent Mississippians from driving in the left lane of a multiple lane road unless “either passing another vehicle or making a left lane turn.” (read full report)

Now it’s one thing to start a rumor, but things can get out of hand quickly when misinformation is repeated multiple times by a trusted source. I first heard about the new law from my 12-year-old son, who “heard it on TV” and asked me last week, “Dad, why did the Legislature pass the new left lane law? What good is it to have two lanes if you can only drive in one?” Little did I know his inquiry would provide MS Truth Journal with yet another example for our readers.

Drivers in Vicksburg learned of the “new law” from this June 30 Vicksburg Post article (view article online) in which a patrolman was quoted: “After you pass a vehicle on a four-lane highway, you are to move to the right-hand lane,” Henry said. “Basically this law prevents road rages. You have a lot of people who get upset when a person is driving in the left lane and they’re holding up traffic. Then it escalates to a whole other different situation. Hopefully this law will calm down the situation.”

Hattiesburg motorists commuting up and down Highway 49 learned of the new law on June 30th in this report (view report online): “Another law will fine drivers who spend too much time in the left lane. Drivers who travel in the left lane must be either passing another vehicle or making a left turn. If not, drivers may face a $25 fine.”

Before long, news of the new “left lane law” was picked up by WTOK in Meridian, where the television station went so far as to feature local public reaction on the purely hypothetical new left lane law (view article online) WTOK reported: “Most local drivers we talked to like the new law. ‘If you’re going to pass, pass,’ says Mark Wilson of Bailey. ‘It’s dangerous on the large trucks too if you won’t get out from beside them.’”

Other concerned citizens chimed in on the new left lane requirements: “For emergency purposes, somebody could be going for an emergency and somebody could be in the way and slowing them up,” says Kerry McCarthy of Meridian. “I think it’s a great idea about passing on the passing lane,” says Alicia Thames of Meridian. “That’s because I know that when I’m on the interstate traveling, I get so upset when people don’t get over, and they stay in the passing lane, side-by-side and you’re stuck behind them.”

So many people were excited about the new law!

But others like Laureen Bettis of Shubuta took issue with this infringement on her driving rights. She was quoted by WTOK as saying “If you’re driving the speed limit I think a person should be able to drive in any lane that they want to.”

Luckily for Ms. Bettis, she can still drive in whichever lane she prefers, because the “new left lane law” widely reported as fact throughout Mississippi was and is pure fiction. Yes, there was a bill (view bill online) but it was never passed into law by both houses of the Legislature, having died in a Senate committee. So how did this case of wrong news reporting happen?

Kudos to WTOK which on June 30 corrected the news: “The Mississippi Highway Patrol told media this week that a new law keeping slow drivers out of the left-hand lane would go into effect July 1, but troopers now say that actually won’t happen. Warren Strain with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety says that particular bill died in committee.”

Nevertheless, if you or someone you know received a warning or ticket for violating the fabled new left lane law, we at MS Truth Journal would definitely love to hear about it.

And, whichever lane you prefer, Happy Driving, Mississippians!

— The Editor, MS Truth Journal
“The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth”

7/6/17

Posted July 10, 2017 - 9:27 pm

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