During the weekend, as I made a couple of 80-mile journeys on the M3, I chewed over the recent news that the police are to get increased powers to issue on-the-spot fines for careless driving offences — such as poor lane discipline and tailgating.
The move has been made following “extensive public consultation” according to the Department for Transport, so on the face of it this seems to be a case of giving the people exactly what they want.
If it leads to more traffic officers keeping our roads safe, that’s a positive step. But in my view, the new powers seem to contain some vagueness that could make them counterproductive.
According to AA president Edmund King, middle-lane hogs are “a pet hate” alongside mobile phone users and tailgaters.
I don’t think hogs should be vilified in quite the same way. Using a handheld mobile phone, like not wearing a seatbelt, is black-and-white; if you get caught, you can’t really argue with an on-the-spot fine, points or whatever else comes your way. Similarly, tailgating really could endanger life by not leaving sufficient stopping distance and a clamp down should be welcomed.
However, middle lane hogs, while infuriating, do not actually endanger lives in the same way. Yes, hogs are frustrating, but for any skilled driver they are easy to spot and usually stick to a consistent speed, so can be negotiated with a little bit of patience and forethought.
Are we now saying vehicles that cause others to slow their pace or make risky overtaking moves face censure? Then by extrapolation surely the police will be clamping down on lorries running side-by-side on two lanes of a motorway, or on cyclists from slowing traffic on an A-road by cycling alongside each other.
Okay, there’s a touch of facetiousness about that statement, but to me, middle-lane hogging rarely seems like a product of malevolence. In fact, I suspect that in many cases such actions are the result of poor driver training or road awareness or a lack of confidence. So if someone is causing a nuisance, by all means pull them over and have a chat about what they’re doing wrong, but is a fine and endorsement really necessary in this instance?
Furthermore, if the authorities – even those that represent motorists’ views – are singling out road hogs, it risks further encouraging those imbeciles who take it upon themselves to teach other road users the error of their ways, cutting them up, tailgating or flashing their headlights at them.
In any case, motorists stung by the police for middle-lane hogging and other offences will still have the right to appeal their penalties through the courts, and this is where I wonder whether establishing such fuzzy areas in the rules of our roads will have an adverse effect.
If drivers feel the law is sufficiently indistinct that they might have a good chance of beating their punishment, they might be encouraged to chase it through the courts – the opposite of what was intended.