Could ‘undertaking’ solve lane-hogging problem?

Could 'undertaking' speed up traffic flow? Picture: PA
Could 'undertaking' speed up traffic flow? Picture: PA
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WITH UK motorways so congested, should we allow “undertaking” to help free the flow of traffic?

The frustration of being held up by another driver who refuses to return to the left lane is a common complaint in the UK. While this is a symptom of poor driving standards, it is also something that has proven difficult for law-makers and the police to tackle, even with the introduction of powers for the police to deal with middle-lane hoggers. So, should we simply make “undertaking” fully legal?

At present, there is no specific law in England and Wales or Scotland about undertaking. Instead, it’s dealt with by the police as either a matter of Driving Without Due Care and Attention or Driving Without Due Consideration For Other Road Users. Both of these charges carry the potential for three to nine penalty points on your driving licence, plus a fine.

However, with both of these charges, there is room for discretion and interpretation by a police officer. For instance, if the traffic in the third lane of a motorway has slowed to a very low speed or is stopped, it’s perfectly legal to undertake while driving in the first and second lanes, provided it’s safe to do so.

Another instance is if another driver is hogging the middle lane of a motorway and you pass in lane one rather than move out to lane three and then back into lane one. A police officer might well view your undertake as safer than moving across three lanes to overtake.

The key to all of this is safety. If your manoeuvre is deemed safe by the police, you are unlikely to be prosecuted. However, if you undertake other vehicles and weave in and out of traffic, you will be looking at one of the charges above as your driving will be below what is expected of a reasonable driver.

With this kind of grey area in policing and road traffic law, would it not simply be easier to do away with any kind of punishment for undertaking? Clearly, if someone is driving dangerously that is a different matter, but for those drivers simply taking advantage of an empty or freer-flowing lane, doesn’t it make more sense to use it?

In the USA, most states allow undertaking as a matter of routine driving. Everyone knows this is the case and it means drivers have to check more carefully when pulling from one lane to the next in case there is another vehicle approaching on the inside.

With the kind of set-up in the USA, it puts the onus on every driver to be aware of what is around them rather than the driver in the outer lane assuming they have right of way. By forcing drivers in the UK to be more aware and responsible for their actions, it could improve road safety.

There are also benefits to congestion, emissions and fuel economy. If every driver can choose a lane and stick to the one that is moving most freely, we could do away with the British mentality of sitting in the outside lane and refusing to keep left unless overtaking. With traffic moving more easily, journey times are reduced and less fuel is used. That is a benefit to all drivers.