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Trucks break law, use left lane, drivers, cops say

Tractor-trailer drivers call it The Big-Dollar Lane.

It's the left lane of the Long Island Expressway, where trucks are not allowed and violations can mean fines of $180.

Still, local police and truck drivers say it's not uncommon for trucks to use the lane to pass slower-moving vehicles.

"You know you're not supposed to do it," said Juan Chavez, 36, of Bay Shore, a long-haul trucker. "But you do what you gotta do. Sometimes, you gotta do it."

Although some states allow left-lane driving, officials say the laws in New York and many other states exist because trucks can impede traffic flow and they have blind spots that prevent them from seeing other drivers. These places are close to the front and back of a big rig and on both sides. The worst among these is along the truck's right-hand "blind side."

When trucks are in the left-hand lane, all other vehicles, except those in the HOV lane, are on the blind side. "If you have a small car and you're near the right front tire, I can't see you," said driver Joel Allen, 38, of Newington, Conn.

Nassau County police spokesman Anthony Repalone said officers have no tolerance for the violation. "They issue summonses on a daily basis," he said.

In 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 252 large truck crashes statewide involving a failure to keep right and 996 where the key contributing factor was a truck passing other vehicles or using a lane improperly, says the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The crashes resulted in 22 deaths.

For left-hand lane and improper-lane-use-related crashes involving all vehicles, there were more than 15,000 accidents in 2008. In these, 178 people died. Statewide, large trucks were involved in 105 fatal crashes in 2008, statistics show.

No vehicle should be in the left lane, except when passing, but trucks have even more reason to not be there, said Robert Sinclair, AAA Auto Club of New York spokesman. "Many trucks are overloaded, overweight; a lot are traveling at high speed and they . . . take a long distance to stop," he said. "Put them in the left-hand lane where their drivers have a blind spot . . . and it becomes a bad combination."But truckers said that car drivers also sometimes force them to take evasive maneuvers - and into the left lane. "You've got some guy, he's driving 45 miles per hour in the center lane," Chavez said. "Maybe you have no choice."

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