What is the essential difference between gay marriage and hogging the middle lane? Hard to pin down, isn’t it? People get very angry in each case, both for and against. Making law about them did not appear in any party’s manifesto, as far as I can recall. Possibly one of them strikes at the very heart of our culture, but I am not sure which.
Gay marriage has not yet affected me to any great degree, but hogging the middle lane certainly has – though less often than you might think. As a Norfolk resident, I do not encounter roads with middle lanes unless I travel out of the county.
There is not a single mile of motorway in Norfolk, and no three-lane roads. There may be people living in Norfolk who have never travelled on a road with three lanes.
And yet the Government feels compelled to permit the police to issue fixed penalty notices to offending drivers. It may be the only UK law that does not apply in Norfolk.
So why am I worried? The trouble is, unlike gay marriage, it is not entirely clear what constitutes “hogging the middle lane”. Is travelling at or around the speed limit in the middle lane more dangerous or annoying than the driver who overtakes you in the right-hand lane while you’re passing someone in the inside lane, then veers across the carriageway to the inside lane to show you how considerate (or law-abiding) he is?
Don’t get me wrong. Slow drivers in the middle lane are very annoying if the outside lane is busy. They can be irritating anywhere, but you can’t make laws against irritating people. If you could, most politicians and television presenters would soon be illegal.
Hogging the middle lane, like tailgating (how close is a tail?), are wide open to interpretation. We may find both annoying, but how soon would it be before someone judges us – excellent drivers that we are – as spending too long in the middle or driving marginally too close to the car in front? And of course we can’t argue our case. It’s either accept a fixed penalty fine and endorsement or go before magistrates who will automatically accept what the police say. Oh yes they will.
As a Norfolk driver I am more concerned with dual carriageways, where people hog not the middle but the outside lane. In Norwich itself (and I am sure elsewhere) you can find yourself crawling behind a driver who is in the outside lane either by accident or because he or she wants to turn right in three roundabouts’ time. As always, the bad drivers win.
And outside towns and cities there are still the HGVs who take minutes to overtake each other while a queue of cars piles up behind, disrupting the natural flow and creating clear and obvious danger. And while I’m at it, has someone changed the Highway Code so that if you want to overtake, you simply signal right and move out, regardless of what is happening behind you? How about some fixed penalty notices there?
What is really annoying though (oh, you thought I was already annoyed?) is that the Government puts all this stuff on the same level as something that is not careless or irritating, but downright reckless: texting while driving.
Can you imagine anything more idiotic? I can easily eat a sandwich while controlling a vehicle – especially if it is given to me by a passenger – but there is no way anyone can text safely while driving. And yet the penalty remains the same. Are we supposed to take these people seriously?
Of course when it comes down to it, nothing much will change, because there are so few traffic police on the road that even the worst driver is unlikely to get caught. I have always argued that this is a bad thing, because of the general efficiency of the traffic police, but with so many fixed penalty offences flying about, I am not so sure.