Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Middle lane hogger and the motorway drivers

Middle lane hogging seems to be a universally deplored driver fault, yet it is still extremely widespread. So what is it?

Middle lane hogging occurs on motorways where there are at least 3 lanes. It is the practice of driving in the middle lane when the left hand lane is not occupied. That's the basic definition, here's a bit more detail:

"Driving: the essentials skills", that fascination DSA publication that all learner drivers are supposed to read states that you should, "Keep to the left-hand lane unless there are a great many slower vehicles ahead - it's possible to stay in the centre or outer lanes while you are overtaking a number of slower moving vehicles, but don't stay in these lanes longer than you have to, or if you are delaying traffic behind you."(my italics) So, the middle lane is for overtaking, if there are no vehicles to your left to overtake, you shouldn't be in that lane.

There are some middle lane hoggers who persist in driving in the middle lane when the rest of the road is fairly empty. I have often wondered about the demographic of these drivers. It is sometimes men who, I think, don't want to travel in the left hand lane because they consider it to be the slow lane and while they don't want to actually break the speed limit and go into the fast lane with the big boys (they have a family to support and a position in society to uphold), driving in the left hand lane would damage their credibility with themselves to such an extent as to be the final nail in the coffin of their youthful rebellion. Having said that, middle lane hoggers are often just people of either sex who are too oblivious to the way that roads are supposed to function to notice that what they are doing is wrong.

While, such middle lane hoggers are irritating they are generally fairly harmless. There is a related issue though, which does lead to some pretty dangerous driving on multi-lane roads of all kinds - the practice of driving in the middle or right hand lanes even if they are too full to be used for overtaking and causing them to bunch up close together at high speeds.

If the left-hand lane is going more slowly than you want to go and the lane to the right is empty then obviously, you change lane and off you go. However, if the left-hand lane is going more slowly than you want to go but the lane(s) to the right is(are) also blocked what do you do? My response is that if you cannot use the lanes to the right of you for the purpose for which they are intended - overtaking - then you shouldn't go in them at all. You should wait until the lane to the right is clear (or at least going fast enough to be able to use it for overtaking) before going into it. This should mean that in a situation of heavy traffic, the left lane should be fullest and each subsequent lane to the right should be increasingly empty but the opposite is often true. The right hand lane is often full of cars travelling far too close together at 70mph or higher. The middle lane, or right hand lane on 2 carriageway roads, is often going more slowly than the left hand lane.

Does this mean that those in the left hand lane should slow down to avoid committing the cardinal sin of overtaking on the inside? No, because the vehicles in that lane are doing exactly what they are supposed to. They are driving at an appropriate speed for the road in the left hand lane. I have often been in the situation (A31 going through the New Forest between Bournemouth and Southampton is a prime location for this) where I have been happily driving along in the left hand lane, in a car or a truck, and the vehicles to my right have been moving more slowly. I effectively overtake them on the inside, which winds them up so they speed up. This does not cause them to travel the overall distance any faster, it simply causes them to get dangerously close to the car in front and the whole lane bunches up.

It is a sad fact that the UK's roads are often too full for everyone to travel at the speed they want to and however much many drivers would want to overtake those in front of them, if the lane to the right is full of cars, they can't. The only safe thing to do is to take your foot off the accelerator and just accept it. It also makes the whole motorway driving experience much more pleasant if you take the competition out of it.