Middle-lane hogging and undertaking: Are you guilty?

How well do you know your highway code? Hopefully better than I do.

We are all aware that we shouldn’t hog the outermost lane when driving on the expressway, because technically it is only for overtaking. But how many of us realise that this rule doesn’t just apply to the right lane, but to the middle lane of a three-lane expressway too?

In fact, as I found out recently here in the UK, it is against the law to stay in the middle lane when the left lane is available, even if you are driving at a proper speed. Apparently, the problem is becoming so prevalent here that the rules were amended last week to allow the police to issue on-the-spot £100 fines to “middle lane road hogs”.

Why is driving in the middle lane a problem? Because it causes congestion, as this BBC article explains.

I must admit that this is entirely new to me, and I do like to stick to the middle lane even if I have the whole expressway to myself. Despite having driven in over ten different countries and quite extensively in the UK, it turns out that I had been one clueless driver all this time.

Not convinced it’s a bad thing? Well, opinion is certainly divided on this. According to the AA here, middle-lane hogs are among the top three pet hates of drivers, together with tailgaters and mobile phone abusers. Note that hogging refers to any one staying in the lane longer than necessary, not just the slow ones. Boy, I must have offended many fellow drivers unwittingly in the past.

However, other drivers regard the rule impractical and even dangerous if you end up having to continually overtake slower vehicles and move back into the left lane. The guilty offender in me agrees that if I have to overtake every 30 seconds on the left lane, I might as well just stay in the middle?

But rules are rules and it’s something I have to watch out for when driving in the UK from now. Singaporeans coming here for road trips should take note too.

How about rules in Singapore? This is what our Highway Code says:

Lane Discipline

59.  On a three-lane carriageway, you may keep to the central lane when the left-hand lane is occupied by slower moving vehicles. The outer (right-hand) lane is for overtaking only; do not stay in it longer than necessary after overtaking vehicles in the centre lane.

This suggests that you must keep to the left lane if it’s empty. I don’t remember learning this as a hard-and-fast rule from my theory exams, but that was a long time ago. How many people actually take heed, and has any one ever been punished?

One bad practice I do know and try to avoid is “undertaking”, or overtaking on the slow lane. Some countries ban it, but both Singapore and the UK provide some leeway on cases when you are allowed to overtake on the left. The Singapore Highway Code states:

Overtaking on the Right

61.  This rule does not apply —

(a) when the driver in front has signalled his intention to turn right, in which case you can overtake him on his left;

(b) when you are filtering to the left before a junction; or

(c) when there is slow-moving congested traffic and the vehicles on your right are moving more slowly than your vehicle.

The loose language of 61(c) seems to grant speeding terrors the license to overtake on the left as they deem fit, since in doing so the vehicle on the right will technically be “moving more slowly”. And, unfortunately, I do find “undertaking” more common in Singapore than in the UK.

My own code of conduct is that if I approach a car in the fast lane that is driving near the speed limit, I will slow down and stay behind. If the car in front is driving far too slowly, I will try to signal to the driver to speed up or move away. Only as a last resort, after being stuck behind an unreasonably slow vehicle for a prolonged period, will I attempt to “undertake”. This was what an ambulance stuck behind a Honda Airwave on the CTE ended up doing as well in a recent video that went viral.

What is your take on “middle lane hogging” and “undertaking”? Are you guilty of them?