Blog : Why the ‘Road Hog’ law is flawed…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

The first driver to be prosecuted under the ‘Road Hog’ laws introduced in 2014 was convicted by Leeds Magistrates’ Court last week – Ian Stephens was fined £940 for driving without due care and attention in the middle lane of the M62 between junctions 22 and 23 near Huddersfield last August.

middlelane1

Stephens, a 47-year old painter and decorator from Wigan, Greater Manchester, was pulled over by police on the M62 and charged with the offence, for which he could have opted to pay a fixed penalty of £100.

Perhaps the biggest error Mr. Stephens made, though, was to not represent himself in court, and so allow the Magistrates to make their decision in his absence. Stephens, who is self-employed, apparently did not want to lose a day’s work to attend court as he believed that the video evidence from the patrol car would be sufficient to clear him. On the day of the offence, he claimed that congestion on the M62 (which is notorious for its steep gradients) was sufficiently sticky for all lanes to be moving at roughly the same speed, and that he was reluctant to pull into a ‘small gap’ in the left-hand lane as, in doing so, he would ‘lose momentum and struggle to pull back out into the flow of traffic to overtake HGVs.’

Ian Stephens - the first driver to be successfully prosecuted under 'Road Hog' legislation
Ian Stephens – the first driver to be successfully prosecuted under ‘Road Hog’ legislation

To a certain degree, he has a point. His own vehicle, a Citroen Berlingo diesel, isn’t the quickest vehicle on the road, especially not when laden with tools and equipment, and I’ve driven across the M62 on a Friday afternoon enough times to corroborate his contention that it was, most likely, extremely busy – but, then I wasn’t there, so I can only sympathise insofar as I think he was made an example of a little too harshly by the authorities.

Here, though, is why I believe the ‘Road Hog’ law is fundamentally (and even dangerously) flawed. Sure, it’s annoying when the driver in front is pottering along in the incorrect lane, oblivious to traffic conditions and what’s coming up from behind, and there are some motorists out there who are truly shocking when it comes to observation – but, having a hard and fast rule with no apparent discretion can discredit good drivers, who are genuinely aware and thinking about their road position.

A few years back, I did two advanced driving courses. One was private tuition paid for by my then employer, as I had a job that involved frequently driving powerful cars on test tracks (well, someone had to do it…), the second was a well-known road safety qualification available to anyone and based on training given to, and dictated by, police officers.

On both courses, I was told that, on an empty motorway, the safest place to be was the middle lane because the single biggest thing you can do to improve your road safety is give yourself space. It’s logical – hazards can come from either side (road debris, animals…) and, in giving yourself room to manoeuvre, you’re minimising your exposure to risk. Every time I drive down the motorway at night, or in quiet traffic conditions, you’ll find me out there in the middle lane road-hogging away. However, in fairness, I always pull in if a faster vehicle is approaching from behind. In reality, then, I’m not hogging the lane – but I am breaking the law. And I’m not going to stop doing it any time soon.

But if it's safe and reasonable to do so, please use it...
But if it’s safe and reasonable to do so, please use it…

Similarly, how is the law interpreted? Frequently, for example, I incur the wrath of other road users tailgating or flashing their lights at me because, in their minds, I am hogging whatever lane I’m in by travelling more slowly than they desire – yet, in reality, I’m cruising no more slowly than the vehicle directly in front. All I’m doing is keeping a safe braking distance between my car and the one ahead, not actually holding anyone up or delaying their progress and, with impatient so-and-sos such as them behind me, I’m actually quite keen to get over and out of their way as quickly as possible. Again, though, how does the law translate?

On the above basis, I can’t help but feel an inkling of sympathy for Ian Stephens. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see what happened. So all of the above is my own rambling hypothesis. But my argument is that we shouldn’t need laws like this on our roads, if only we were to educate our drivers better in the first place…

 

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

36 Comments

  1. OK so I have been a highly trained traffic police officer and have to disagree with your middle lane theory. The hard shoulder is enough to give you space, the theory is stay left unless you need to overtake. In real terms take the line of least resistance but always return to the left…

    • I take your point – but aren’t a huge number of motorway deaths and injuries incurred on the hard shoulder? Surely better, on a completely empty, unlit motorway, to create the biggest number of escape routes possible? If you’re aware of what’s in front, around and behind you, you’ve plenty of time to get back over to the left without obstructing any other road user…

  2. Safety theories do change over time.

    About 30 years ago I heard a Police Road Safety Officer express a view – off the record of course – that the safest speed in a 30mph area without a large concentration of hazards is usually the same speed as other traffic. In practice this meant about 37-38mph. Not long after then when preparing for my IAM test, I was advised by more than one trainer to use the horn more often.

    How much support would either of those views find nowadays?

  3. Are middle lane hoggers dangerous, or just anoying? The answer is anoying, unlike the people who get outraged by them.

    The drivers who boil over about middle lane hoggers are middle and outside lane hoggers themselves. You will never see them in the left lane, and to these outraged drivers are far more of hazard than any middle lane hogger.

    After all middle land hoggers don’t drive at 90-100mph on public roads, neither do they aggressively and dangerously tailgate other road users.

    The driver I would like dealt with are the drivers who do 50 odd in a 30 limit and tailgate drivers obeying the limit. Not to stereotype, but they tend to drive German saloons.

    • I am often annoyed by middle lane hoggers when driving in an empty inside lane, because it completely defeats the whole concept of motorway lanes.

      If middle lane dawdling is legal then I should be able to undertake as well, instead of being made to move all the way to the 3rd lane then back to the 1st to overtake.

    • You’re talking nonsense I’m afraid Bartelbe. Of course it’s dangerous dawdling along in the middle lane without a care in the world, oblivious to what’s going on around you. It simply turns a probably already overloaded three lanes into a duel carriage way as everyone tries to squeeze into the outside lane to get past you. Do you understand that?

      • “You’re talking nonsense I’m afraid Bartelbe. Of course it’s dangerous dawdling along in the middle lane without a care in the world, oblivious to what’s going on around you. It simply turns a probably already overloaded three lanes into a duel carriage way as everyone tries to squeeze into the outside lane to get past you. Do you understand that?

        Why, so you have to go to the far right lane to overtake. Anoying yes, dangerous no.

        My basic problem is the people who complain most about middle lane hoggers never move into the left lane themselves. I obey the lane rules, and do move in. I see a stream of cars who spend their whole time at 80-100mph in the middle and right lanes.

        These are the drivers that bitch and moan about middle lane hoggers. They should practice what they preach.

        • It’s very dangerous because you are positively encouraging people to undertake you… which is dangerous for all concerned. I find it astonishing that you don’t understand that. The rules are: keep left unless overtaking, it’s very simple and generally works well.

          • “It’s very dangerous because you are positively encouraging people to undertake you… which is dangerous for all concerned. I find it astonishing that you don’t understand that. The rules are: keep left unless overtaking, it’s very simple and generally works well.”

            You can’t be encouraged to perform a dangerous maneuver. The middle lane hogger doesn’t take over your car and press the accelerator. If you decide dangerously undertake someone, because of your impatience and cause an accident; it is 100% your fault.

            I find it attonishing that you think other roads users can be responsible for your poor driving.

          • Well said Mike. I’m amazed a number of people here of all places don’t understand the fairly simple concept of how to use a motorway and are apparently oblivious to the chaos they cause behind them.

    • Actually there’s a small grain of truth in what you say. I regularly drive the north circular and it’s not uncommon to find someone dawdling along in the middle lane at 40 in a 50 with the left hand lane completely empty while a stream of cars try to get past on the right. Of course that’s going to outrage other drivers because it delays them and massively reduces capacity. And human nature means once people have been annoyed and delayed for no reason they’re probably going to be worse drivers.

  4. If they had this law in Illinois where I live, they could pay off the massive budget deficit in a couple of months. Everybody just piles into the passing lanes and just switches their brain off. You can usually make much better progress in the right lane.

  5. Yes, I too feel rather sorry for Ian Stephens. Firstly, it does seem that he has been made an example of and treated rather harshly. I don’t imagine he’s an inexperienced driver or that it was a blatant example of lane hogging. Seems he was judging the situation on a case by case basis as opposed to a hard and fast rule. If all lanes were moving at a similar speed and his vehicle would struggle with the extra acceleration required if pulling out from the inside lane he was judging the situation fairly well.

    I feel sorry for the man with so many others casting judgement on what was very likely a considered piece of driving.

  6. He should have paid the £100 and got on with it. Middle lane hogging is just bad driving and inconsiderate in any situation. Keep left at all times except to overtake.

  7. It does my head in to hear of “middle lane” hogging. To have 3 lanes is a luxury that Northern Irish motorways do not have, being mostly 2 lanes.

    In fact, there were recently widened 3 lane sections in and out of the city, however people tend to treat lane 1 as an extended offslip/onslip (which given that they begin and end with lane gains/drops, they kind of are!

    Do agree though that the tailgaters in their Audis do my head in, I like to keep a braking distance with the car in front, not my fault that theyre dawdling!

    • Yes the 1st lane on a city section of a motorway tends to become the slip entrance lane. I guess they were thinking about that with the upgrade of the M50 around Dublin. Three lanes and each slip connected to the next making 4 lanes in total between junctions.

  8. I’ve always wanted to see parking banned on all dual carriageways, which also reduces the number of lanes available and hinders efficient traffic flow for a much longer period of time. It totally negates the point and cost of building and maintaining a dual carriageway.

  9. Sorry, but as a 20,000+ mile a year driver, and frequent user of the M62, he got what he deserved. The number of times I get held up by some plonker who just plain refuses to pull in to the inside lane is legion. Not that they are travelling at the speed limit, but usually, like Mr Stephens, pootling along at 60-65mph on a busy motorway, with a 400m gap in front of them.

    I also did an advanced drivng course in the 1990s and the ex-police driver reinforced the guidance to drive on the inside lane unless overtaking. Accidents only happen on the hard shoulder because drivers aren’t paying attention.

    If you are not overtaking, move over! Use your mirrors, anticipate and mirror, signal, manoeuvre! Oh, wait, white van man and mirrors does not compute….

  10. The 2 lane parts of the M66 & A56 north of Bury can be tricky to drive on at a steady 70, as 1 lane is normally hard to get much over 60, & the other is for 80mph+ thrill seekers.

    • 2 lane bits of the M11 are much the same. Interesting in a 1000cc mini if you don’t want to pootle along at 50ish!

  11. those 4 lanes roads that have no hard shoulder I like to drive on lane 2 as you never know if a broken car is around the next bend

  12. So we should keep left, and at a junction move over to let on joining traffic.

    In, out, in out, in out and when ‘in’ on a busy road we’re sandwiched between Artic lorries that struggle pull up safely in an emergency.

    I just don’t get it, wouldn’t it be better to keep the left lane for lorries and joining traffic, the centre lane for cars and the outside lane for those who wish to speed and emergency vehicles?

  13. Am i the only person to think that the system is unworkable? Most of the time the motorways are so jammed solid, that to try and maintain 70 in the left lane is impossible. It will be full of trucks doing 56. there simply isn’t room for everyone in lane 1 even without the trucks.

    • Nobody is asking everyone to be in lane 1. If there’s a solid stream of trucks at 56 in lane 1 and a solid stream of cars in lane 2 at 70 then that’s fine. However if as I’ve often seen people are going past you at a much higher speed on both sides you’re doing something wrong.

  14. Cars travelling less than 56mph force lorries out into the middle lane causing a knock on effect, Why would you want to travel less than 70 mph?
    All the lorries and caravans moving in+out because some plonker is toddling along at 48mph This is dangerous and all the accidents or should i say most of them are usually in the 1st and middle lane.

  15. This has got to be the most ridiculous article I have ever read on this website. I don’t know if you’re playing Devil’s Advocate or what, but on what other road (I’m talking single/dual carriageway ‘A’ roads, heck even ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads) would you drive down the middle of the road on the basis of safety? In fact on roads where said ‘animal’ is more likely to appear in front of you.

    • ^ “Ridiculous” as it might sound, if the road is empty and there’s nothing coming towards me or up behind me, I will drive in the ‘crown’ of the road, yes. I will also drive on the right hand side of a right hand bend if there’s no oncoming traffic and nobody alongside me. It’s called observation. Knowing what is in front, around and behind you at all times means you can drive safely anywhere on any road, except where road markings dictate it is unsafe to do so. Surely? Certainly that’s hat I’ve been taught.

  16. Just as I always suspected, we all have our own rules when it comes to driving and we all know we’re right!

  17. I enjoy your articles Craig but I disagree with you on this matter. This law was long overdue. If I can pass you on the inside (illegal I know but I do it to prove a point at times) then you are in the wrong lane and should move over. The worst offenders are either youngish ladies or middle aged drivers. I also disagree with Bartelbe over their assertion that people who get annoyed with middle lane hoggers never move over as I am a firm believer in lane discipline and you should move over when clear.

  18. If it’s illegal to hog the middle lane, why do we even have three? Is no-one supposed to drive in the middle or right have lane? Surely by definition anyone using the right lane must be speeding…

    My experience is that people in the left lane drive too slowly and I am not prepared to be constantly having to weave in and out of that lane just to avoid a stupid law. I don’t drive below the limit and I do not deliberately get in the way of other drivers driving at a legal limit. I am also not going to be forced into the left lane because someone wants to use the middle lane at 80+ miles an hour.

    The law in this case is a total ass.

  19. Johnny, I strongly suspect that the majority of people complaining about being held up by a middle lane hogger are driving far quicker than the limit allows, so it’s rather ironic that the people mostly driving at the correct speed in this case are considered to be breaking the law.

    The law isn’t specific enough, it should also be about speed, and If I am using the middle lane at the limit then I shouldn’t be considered to be breaking the law because someone else simply wants to drive faster than the law allows.

    • James, the highway code applies as much to you as to anyone else. It’s arrogant to think you are entitled to pick and choose which bits you should obey and which bits you can be excused. Drivers exceeding the speed limit run the risk of prosecution and should accept their punishment when caught. The same applies to drivers who have poor lane discipline. You are not exempt from the other rules of the road simply because you are not speeding.

  20. I think the lane rules need to change. So many motorways have an inside lane thick with lorries trundling along at 56mph that it would be made to go back to the inside lane, even if there’s a short break in the lorries.

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