Back in 2011 (yes, it really was that long ago), I posted about the commonly misunderstood term ‘Merge In Turn’ and the frustration it causes many drivers every day because people don’t know how to follow the rules.
I thought I’d write about another bad habit I see far too often on the roads that has relatively recently, been subject to a bit more scrutiny by law enforcement: Middle Lane Drivers (hoggers).
Your standard motorway in the UK has three lanes. Some, such as Smart Motorways and permanently widened carriageways have more. The same rules apply to these – just scaled up to suit. I’ll focus on the conventional motorway layout so here is a stretch of the lovely M1 courtesy of Google Street View with added captions:
The first point to mention that a lot of people don’t realise is that the Inside Lane is the Normal Driving Position. That is to say that you should not be in any of the other lanes unless you have good reason to be.
That is, when there is no other traffic on the carriageway or when you are not overtaking another vehicle, you should be in the Inside Lane – like the Google Street View Car is in the shot above, actually. Directly from the Highway Code:
You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past. Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking. You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform or by signs.
Why is this the case though? There are three lanes – what’s wrong about making use of them? Well, actually, there’s quite a lot wrong. The first and most obvious reason is due to this rule in the Highway Code:
Do not overtake on the left or move to a lane on your left to overtake. In congested conditions, where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds, traffic in left-hand lanes may sometimes be moving faster than traffic to the right. In these conditions, you may keep up with the traffic in your lane even if this means passing traffic in the lane to your right. Do not weave in and out of lanes to overtake.
On a three lane carriageway, staying in the left hand lane when driving normally (not overtaking) leaves two available lanes for other drivers to overtake or move into. That means someone can move into the middle lane to overtake you if necessary, and in turn, someone could move into the outside lane to overtake them. Sitting in the middle lane reduces the available number of lanes in which to legally overtake down to one and as a result, reduces the potential traffic flow. This is a major cause of congestion.
Scale this up to carriageways with more than three lanes and the same applies. Keep left unless overtaking. Simple.
BUT IF I’M DOING THE SPEED LIMIT ANYONE OVERTAKING ME IS SPEEDING!
Is an argument commonly used by people who sit in the middle lane and either don’t understand the Highway Code or are unable to use common sense. Much like those who sit in a queue at Merge In Turn situations. In fact, I’d be inclined to suggest a correlation between these two might be present…
People overtake. Deal with it.
There is a reasonable enough disparity between the instrumentation that measures our speed that even when you are driving at an indicated ’70’, it is likely not to be the same as another vehicles indicated ’70’. They’re close, but not the same. In fact, most cars under-read, some people drive with more accurately calibrated speedometers, some are digital, some are analogue, some use GPS indications. At higher speed, the variance is greater as the margin for error often increases proportional to speed.
In any case, just because you think someone is breaking the law, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for you to break the law either does it?
BUT I’LL JUST HAVE TO MOVE BACK OVER EVERY TWO SECONDS!
Well, no. You won’t. Not if you use common sense and follow Rule 268. Recent convictions and fines handed out to ‘middle lane hoggers’ suggest that every opportunity was given for them to move over despite the inside lane being clear for a long time.
No one is expecting you to move out, overtake and then move back in for every vehicle you pass individually – that’d just be dangerous – overtaking is one of the most dangerous maneuvers you can perform as a driver. Simply put, if there’s enough empty lane for someone to pass you on the inside and continue on their way, you’re in the wrong lane.
Personally, I use a ’10 second’ rule. That is, if I am performing an overtake and determine that the lane to my left is empty and will remain empty for 10 seconds or more given my current speed, then I move back over. If you can’t approximately judge what sort of distance 10 seconds equates to at the speed you are travelling, then maybe you shouldn’t be driving?
Drive Considerately: Let the Traffic Flow
I strongly believe that driver education and attitude (and I don’t mean just passing your test) is generally a very weak point for us in this country. I mean, I’m no saint when it comes down to it, but I like to think I make the effort to drive properly; I wonder how many of the delays we see every day could be prevented by people just driving more considerately in order to improve traffic flow?