If you’ve ever had the misfortune of driving on the M5 through Somerset and Devon on a Bank Holiday weekend, you’ll have encountered them - loads of cars in the middle lane, pootling along, seemingly not going anywhere in a hurry.
Behind them, there's usually a bunched-up stream of frustrated prospective overtakers, shaking their fists and gnashing their teeth. To their left, not much at all, save for the occasional lorry, caravan or tumbleweed.
Hoggers of the middle lane are some of the most infuriating users of British roads, rivalled only by tailgaters. But as of July, new measures will be handed to police to stop them, with traffic cops given the ability to issue £100 on-the-spot penalties to offenders.
Meanwhile, the fixed penalty for not wearing a seatbelt will rise from £40 to £100, and the penalty for driving without car insurance will rise to £300.
The measures have met with the approval of both the RAC and the AA.
However, Neil Greig, the director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, has expressed concern that fixed penalty tickets “downplay the seriousness of the offence”.
Why do people hog the middle lane?
Dave Burton is the owner of irreverent traffic site How Motorways Work, and it’s safe to say he’s not a fan of middle-lane hoggers. “The middle lane is an easy life," he says. "You can stay there and consequently reduce your brain activity to a level similar to when you're clipping your toenails. No need to change lanes at sliproads either, no need to figure out where the indicators are. It's lazy, bone idle behaviour. By shunning the Highway Code you are slowing faster-moving traffic, reducing the motorway's capacity and probably being dangerous to others.”
Burton’s website addresses a few common arguments used by habitual middle-lane users, from “I don't want to keep changing lanes, it’s dangerous and pointless,” to “if there is an incident then you have two escape options”. Conveniently, he offers a few conversation-ending trump cards as well.
If you look beyond outright laziness for the reasons for the existence of central-lane hoggers, then the concept of the psychology of driving might help you to glean a few answers.
The psychological concept of ‘agreeableness’ (one of the so-called ‘big five’ personality traits) relates to our sensitivity to others. Those prone to hogging may well be in short supply of this, as they are oblivious to the frustrations of fellow drivers.
What does the Highway Code say?
The Highway Code is pretty clear on what it says about the middle lane. Rule 238 states:
“You should drive in the left-hand lane if the road ahead is clear. Return to the left-hand lane once you have overtaken all the vehicles or if you are delaying traffic behind you."
So there you go.
A middle-lane driver speaks out
Using Covered mag’s extensive book of contacts, we managed to track down an unapologetic middle-lane hogger. He wished to remain anonymous, but here’s what he told us:
“I drive in the middle lane almost exclusively, but I wouldn’t call myself a ‘middle-lane hogger’. I tend to make long motorway commutes where I pass lots of sliproads, so weaving in and out is an irritation. I’m always driving faster than the inside lane and I have never experienced someone being slowed down or stuck behind me while driving in the middle lane. I use the outside lane to overtake people in the middle lane.
“I just don’t see what’s wrong with it. If I’m not slowing anyone down, why should I have to be stuck behind lorries, slow drivers, geriatrics or people in lousy cars that can barely make it past 65mph? The middle lane is the normal driving lane for drivers who want to avoid the cretinous population of the slow lane. I didn’t buy a BMW to look at the back of a lime green Hyundai i-10 going 40mph on the M4.”
What a lovely chap.