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What is middle-lane hogging?

If the surveys are to be believed, almost nothing annoys motorists like middle-lane hogging. Here’s the lowdown on what it is and why you really shouldn’t do it.

middle lane hogging

Middle-lane hogging is often cited as one of the most annoying habits on UK roads. The term is slightly misleading, however, because it relates to the practice of driving in any lane other than the left-hand lane on motorways and dual-carriageways when not overtaking and when the road ahead is clear. You can hog the outside lane as well the middle lane, but both can be classed as careless driving under the law and attract a fixed penalty from the police.

Rule 264 of the Highway Code governs this practice and this is what it says in full:

Highway Code Rule 264: “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. You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform or by signs.”

Drivers failing to keep left on multi-lane roads are often referred to as ‘middle-lane hoggers’ because the scenario that most often annoys other drivers is when a car is driving in the middle lane of an empty motorway and not moving over.

Is there ever an excuse for middle-lane hogging? 

There can be reasons for this practice beyond basic ignorance of the Highway Code and a general lack of attention while driving, although none are a valid excuse in the eyes of the law. Some motorists prefer to drive in the middle lane because there’s less chance that they’ll have to move right to overtake slower moving traffic or to make room for traffic joining the motorway at junctions. Some also prefer to stay in the middle lane to keep clear of heavy goods vehicles that are often found in lane one.

On smart motorways that lack a hard-shoulder, drivers can feel uncomfortable driving in the left lane because they perceive an increased risk that they might encounter a broken-down vehicle in the live lane that could not reach one of the refuge areas. There is sometimes also confusion around the smart motorway signage used to signal that the hard shoulder can, in fact, be used to drive on.

What are the penalties for middle-lane hogging?

Of course, none of these possible explanations for middle lane hogging serve as justification for the practice and can have a significant negative impact both on road safety and traffic flows. Failing to move to the left-hand lane when not overtaking is illegal under the ‘careless driving’ laws and can result in a £100 fine with three licence penalty points if you are caught. The most serious cases can even result in a court appearance where higher fines and penalties can be imposed. 

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Head of digital content

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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