§ 21-301. Driving on right side of roadway; exceptions
(a) General rule. — On every roadway that is wide enough, a vehicle shall be driven on the right half of the roadway, except:
(1) While overtaking and passing another vehicle going in the same direction, under the rules governing this movement;
(2) Where there is an obstruction that makes it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway, but the driver of any vehicle doing so shall yield the right-of-way to any other vehicle that is traveling in the proper direction on the unobstructed part of the highway and is so near as to be an immediate danger;
(3) On a roadway that is divided into three or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic, subject to the rules applicable to these roadways;
(4) On a roadway designated and signposted for one-way traffic; or
(5) On a roadway that is marked or signposted in a manner indicating that a contrary rule exists.
(b) Special rule for slow-moving traffic. — On every roadway, except while overtaking and passing another vehicle going in the same direction or when preparing for a lawful left turn, any vehicle going 10 miles per hour or more below the applicable maximum speed limit or, if any existing conditions reasonably require a speed below that of the applicable maximum, at less than the normal speed of traffic under these conditions, shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
(c) Roadway with four or more lanes and two-way movement of traffic. —
(1) On any roadway that is divided into four or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic and that provides for two-way movement of traffic, a vehicle may not be driven on the left of the centerline of the roadway, except:
(i) Where authorized by a traffic control device designating a lane to the left of the center of the roadway for use by traffic not otherwise permitted to use this lane; or
(ii) As permitted under subsection (a)(2) of this section.
(2) This subsection does not prohibit the crossing of the centerline of a roadway while making a left turn into or from an alley or a private road or drive
This subsection of the code sets forth some of the most basic rules of the road. It has remained basically unchanged since it was originally enacted. It does occasionally come up in auto accident cases as we discuss below.
CASES & EXAMPLES
The Maryland appellate courts have frequently held that violations of this section’s requirements (specifically the rule requiring driving on the right side of the road) constitute “prima facie negligence.” A defendant who is found to have violated this section is guilty of negligence unless they can show that their violation was justified by some type of abnormal circumstances (e.g., swerving to avoid a child on the side of the road). See, e.g., Virginia Freight Lines v. Montgomery, 256 MD. 221 (1969)
An unreported Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ opinion in 2016 in Adams v. State underscores that violation of the statute bicyclist. The defendant in this case was pulled over for failure to drive his bicycle on the right half of the roadway in violation § 21-301. (During the frisk after being pulled over, the defendant was found with heroin and charged with dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.
In civil cases, a personal injury lawyer might ask the judge to give a jury instruction to the effect that a driver who does not drive on the right half of the road is presumed to be guilty of negligence where failing to do so proximately causes a car wreck with another and that the burden shifts to the defendant to give an adequate justification for driving on the left half of the road. To get this instruction from the court, the plaintiff’s lawyer would likely cite:
- Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. App. 617, 622, 810 A.2d 494 (2002) (burden-shifting for rear-end accident)
- Cocco v. Lissau, 202 Md. 196, 199, 95 A.2d 857 (1953) (interpreting Code 1951, art. 66 1/2, sec. 182, the predecessor to § 21-301
- Virginia Freight Lines, Inc. v. Montgomery, 256 Md. 221, 225-226, 260 A.2d 59 (1969)
- Consolidated Gas Electric Light & Power Co. of Baltimore v. O’Neill, 175 Md. 47, 50-51, 200 A. 359 (1938)
- R&L Transfer Co. v. State. For Use of Schmidt, 160 Md. 222, 153 A. 87 (1931).