Picture the situation; you are driving on a motorway or an ‘A road’ with three lanes. You are observing the speed limit and driving in the left lane. The road is clear apart from another driver in the middle lane who is driving at ten miles per hour under the speed limit, and you’re gaining on them. Very soon you’ll be level with them, and if you don’t slow down or change lanes, you’ll be undertaking them. What should you do?
Undertaking and overtaking
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term – ‘undertaking’, is when you pass a vehicle that’s moving more slowly than you, but you remain on the left as you pass it. It’s not illegal to do this, but the highway code advises against it.
Going back to our ‘road hog’ example, since the road is clear, the safest thing to do is to anticipate what’s about to happen in good time, move over to the middle lane, and then enter the right hand lane, overtake the car, move back into the middle lane when it’s safe, and then return back to the left hand lane, signalling your intention at each stage in good time.
With any luck, the driver in the middle lane will take the cue from you, and move back into the left lane behind you. Although, there may be reasons why they are driving like that, and we’ll look at it from their point of view in a minute.
Never undertake the undertaker!
What if you deliberately undertake the slower moving vehicle?
Why did the driver of the hearse get prosecuted? Because he was an ‘undertaker’!!
You’ll often witness undertaking when drivers are in a hurry. If the outside (right) lane is moving too slowly for them, they enter the middle lane, then they see a gap to the left and impatiently move into that, undertake the slower moving vehicles, and then they move back to the right lane, and they may do this several times on their journey. The potential danger is that if any of the drivers on the right decide to move back to the left, at the same moment as the car passes on their left, this risks a collision. If this were to happen ‘the undertaker’ might end up being prosecuted for careless driving. It’s an unnecessary risk. At best it might shave a few minutes off their journey time, but usually undertaking gets them no further ahead than if they’d simply kept in their original lane.
Just because you can’t overtake on the right, it’s not an excuse to undertake on the left.
The highway code recognises circumstances when undertaking might be the safer , or only option, and like all exceptions to the rules, this can be a cause of confusion. So, it makes sense to understand the types of situations where undertaking is OK.
When you are allowed to undertake– when the car in front is turning right
The obvious one is when the car to the right is turning right. You need to be sure that they are actually going right and that they haven’t accidentally selected the right indicator by mistake! So, you need to look for other clues, and don’t assume anything. Usually there will be a junction and white painted right arrows on the road, or traffic lights with green filter arrows, that will to help confirm that the car is going to turn right. The positioning of the vehicle may also be a clue. If you’re looking well ahead, you’ll be able to anticipate this and move into the left hand lane in good time, and this way you won’t ‘get stuck’ behind a car that’s waiting to turn right.
When you are allowed to undertake– when lanes are moving at different speeds
Another situation where it’s permissible to undertake is when traffic is moving slowly in queues, and you’re simply keeping the same pace as other traffic in your lane. In a situation like that, there is absolutely no point in trying to change lanes. If you’re in the slower moving lane there is every chance that your lane will start to move more quickly soon. Please don’t be the impatient driver who decides that ‘the grass is greener’ in the faster moving lane and then edges into it. Staying in your lane in this situation is not lane hogging because you’re exercising good ‘lane discipline’.
When you are allowed to undertake – on roads where you are instructed to stay in your lane
On roads where there is an average speed check and/or a stay in lane instruction on the overhead gantries you should stay in your lane, even if that means undertaking. To change lanes to overtake would be to ignore the instructions.
When you are allowed to undertake – on a one-way street
The main thing to be aware of is how to undertake safely. The secret is not to stay in the blind spot of the car on the right that you’re passing, for any longer than is necessary. You’re most likely in the blind spot of that car when you are nearly along side it. So, if the traffic up ahead is going to prevent you from passing then hold back, increase your following distance, and allow enough room for the car to your right to enter your lane in front of you if necessary. The longer you sit in the blind spot, the more chance there is of a collision. Remember, never undertake or overtake unless the way ahead is clear.
Why be a middle lane hog?
The consequence of hogging the middle lane may be that you’ll encourage vehicles to undertake, and it could endanger people; this being the case, why do drivers hog the middle lane?
One possibility is that it seems like the safest and most convenient lane to use. This might be the case where there are lots of slip roads on a particular stretch of road. Cars tend to slow down as they approach their exit. There shouldn’t be any need to do this as the slip road is the place to reduce your speed, however, it happens. If it does, following cars will want to overtake. Further along, cars will be joining from a corresponding slip road, and it’s helpful to move over to allow them on. Again, this will introduce traffic into the middle lane. So rather than weaving back and forth between the middle and left lane, a driver may decide just to stay in the middle lane the whole way. This becomes a problem if the driver doing this doesn’t remember to move back to the left lane when it’s safe, unthinkingly remaining in the middle lane for no good reason.
So, which lane should I be in?
Another possibility is that the ‘lane hog’ is not sure which lane is the ‘correct’ one, for various reasons. It’s possible that someone driving in Britain for the first time may be thinking in kilometres per hour, rather than miles per hour. They may be unsure of, or may have forgotten the rules, for example. Or they’re just trying to keep their ‘options open’. It could be that the driver is impaired in some other way. This is good to keep in mind, but it’s not helpful to be so fixated on why the lane hog is driving strangely, that we overlook issues over which we have control.
This is especially true on an unfamiliar road. The driver may not be a lane hog at all. If the road is unfamiliar to us, we perhaps didn’t notice that we’re in a lane that goes off in a different direction. Be aware of direction signs and changes in lane markings. Also, if it does appear that the lane hog is going in a different direction, remember to give them space. Stay out of their blind spot. They may realise that they are in the wrong lane and make a last minute change. Be aware of this possibility and be prepared for it.
One of the most common reasons for becoming a lane hog is that you get too comfortable staying in the middle lane. It’s also possible to get comfortable staying in the right lane and hog that as well, and this often leads to speeding, which isn’t safe, especially when the roads are wet or icy. Not to mention the chance of a fine and points on your licence if the police catch you!
Which way is left again!
I’m dyslexic, and I sometimes get left and right confused. Especially if I’m stressed or tired, and my usual coping strategies stop working. So, when it comes to road lanes, I prefer to label them a bit differently. I use what I call the ‘Goldilocks & The Three Bears‘ technique. I compare the roads to different temperatures. The left hand side is a nice comfortable temperature. As you move further to the right the temperature goes from hot to scalding. This makes it visceral. The outside lane is unbearable, entering it could result in painful blistering burns, so only enter it as a last resort. The middle lane is ok to enter for a short time but it’s uncomfortable and you want to get out of it as quickly as possible. If you think of it in these terms, you’ll be motivated to get back to the left hand side as soon as possible because that’s the best one to be in the majority of the time.
If you do get muddled up with left and right, there is a quick ten second technique that looks a bit bizarre, but really does work! http://bit.ly/dhytvideo