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'Undertaking on motorways should be allowed to tackle lane hoggers'

Lane hoggers are cluttering the motorways and the only way to prevent them is to allow undertaking, says Mike Rutherford

Opinion - M11

We need to talk. And the discussion has to be a proper, adult one on a taboo subject – making undertaking the everyday, legal norm on UK motorways. No, this doesn’t make me an instant supporter of such an idea. But I don’t mind admitting that I feel the time has arrived when we need to consider new laws that permit us to pass slow-moving vehicles – especially stubborn, seemingly immovable, apparently immune-from-prosecution middle-lane hoggers – on the outside and the inside.

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Problem number one is there aren’t enough traffic cops to police the lane hogs. And unfortunately, for financial and other reasons, that’s how it’ll stay.

• What is a smart motorway? Speed cameras, traffic management and hard shoulder use explained

Another issue is the way we use our fastest highways simply isn’t working. We’re a small country that has under-invested in transport. This, at a time when we’ve got an increasing population and generally healthy vehicle sales. Result? We endure traffic densities the majority of drivers in mainland Europe and North America don’t suffer, the lucky souls.

Another major problem is that we’re not using our motorways as effectively as we could, and those hated hoggers are largely responsible. Isn’t it insane that on a free-flowing motorway, a 70mph driver occupying the inside lane and wanting to overtake a 60mph dawdler in the middle lane has to move from lane one, to two, then three, before reversing the procedure and returning to their correct spot in lane one?

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Better, safer, and quicker would be to simply sound the horn before undertaking the 60mph driver, who shouldn’t be sitting in the middle lane, and who will never learn not to. And I mean never. Only a few days ago I heard of a serial hogger whose argument was that lane one = 50mph, lane two = 60mph, and lane three or four = 70mph. And he’s sticking to it. How come? Unlike today, he took formal driving lessons and passed his test in the seventies, when he was given zero advice on motorway driving. Furthermore, because he’s had none since, he won’t be swayed from his lane two = 60mph argument. 

What to do with an unreasonable so-and-so like this? Certainly sound your horn and flash your lights at him. And maybe, in the future with revised laws, you can undertake him with a clear conscience. Not that it’s always illegal to undertake on motorways today – although legislation on this issue is neither clear-cut nor well known.

How about a carefully monitored trial on a short stretch of motorway so the Department for Transport, police, public and safety organisations, plus other interested parties, can see if undertaking works safely? Or are we saying that we’re right in insisting that undertaking is illegal, while other countries that decree it lawful are in the wrong?

With platoons of automated cars predicted to be dashing along in the decades ahead, will these convoys really need to be using the nearside and middle lanes at all during their long-distance schleps? Might such cars and vans, travelling just inches from each other, be better suited to chugging along in the outside lane together at the legal limit?

Like I said, the discussion needs to start; and it starts right here.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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