New penalties were introduced in June 2013 to clamp down on careless drivers who put others at risk on the roads. These changes allow the police to issue on the spot fixed penalty notices for careless driving. Less serious driving offences including tailgating, middle lane hogging and failing to give way at a junction are included in these penalties. Drivers face fines of £100 and three points on their licence. The more serious offences will continue to go to court where higher penalties may be imposed. Police are empowered to offer remedial training. The government hope that raising the penalty levels will increase safety on the roads and act as an extra incentive for drivers to take up remedial courses to address poor driving behaviour.
Hogging the middle lane is probably in most people’s top five pet hates on the road. Many motorists get hugely frustrated when they find cars just sitting in the middle lane and not moving into the left lane or overtaking and moving over. Some people don’t think they are doing anything wrong by hogging the middle lane. However, they are. Firstly, it is against the Highway Code. Section 264 of the Highway Code states: “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.” Secondly, it can cause congestion (and thereby road rage). Thirdly, it can cause dangerous manoeuvres as frustrated motorists weave in and out of lanes. Many people consider the ‘hoggers’ to be selfish, inconsiderate people. Middle lane hogging is not common in Germany and in France you will get flashed or be tailgated for hogging unnecessarily in the middle lane.
Ian Stephens was fined £940 in July this year and received five penalty points on his licence for driving his white Citroen Berlingo van at 60 mph in the middle lane of the M62 motorway last August. He claimed that he stayed in the middle lane because of high winds and denies police claims that he made six other people swerve and brake. The police also said that he had several chances to move into the inside lane but refused to do so. Ian is the first person in the country to be convicted of middle lane hogging and he feels he has been made an example of in order to remind people of the new penalties.
PC Nigel Fawcett-Jones from the Road Policing Unit of West Yorkshire police said lane hogging was dangerous and caused congestion and inconvenience to other road users. He said: “It reduces the capacity of roads and motorways, and can lead to dangerous situations where other drivers 'tailgate' the vehicle in front to try and get the lane hogger to move over. Members of the public regularly tell the Road Policing Unit that lane hogging and tailgating are real problems on our roads and this conviction shows that the police and the courts understand the public's concerns and take this offence seriously.”
It is quite a big problem; Direct Line carried out a survey and released the results last August. One in ten motorists admitted to regularly staying in the middle lane as it was “easier” or “saved changing lanes”. The Direct Line research also revealed the worst stretches of motorway in England for middle lane hogging:
- M4 J5-J6 westbound (Slough) 27%
- M1 J4-J5 southbound (Watford) 26%
- M4 J7-J8/9 eastbound (Slough) 24%
- M25 J4-J5 clockwise (Sevenoaks) 22%
- M25 J12-J13 anti-clockwise (Cheshunt) 21%
- M4 J2-J3 westbound (Brentford) 19%
- M25 J18-J19 anti-clockwise (Watford) 19%
- M25 J16-J17 clockwise (Gerrards Cross) 17%
- M4 J5-J6 eastbound (Heathrow) 16%
- M25 J16-J17 anti-clockwise (Gerrards Cross)12%
Now that one prosecution has been successful we could be seeing the start of a major clampdown on middle lane hoggers. Drivers seem keen to avoid changing lanes, why is that? Some experts think that new drivers or those without motorway experience are ill prepared for motorway driving which isn’t included in the current driving test. Graduated driving licences are being mooted which would include experience of driving on motorways and in poor weather conditions but these ideas are still up in the air.
The new tougher penalties should help to deter motorists from middle lane hogging. However, figures so far show that very few drivers are being caught as the number of traffic police are being drastically cut making it harder to enforce the rules. So Ian Stephens was unlucky and he may well be right that he is being made an example of. But at the end of the day he shouldn’t be a ‘hogger’ anyway.