Clarkson on: middle-lane hogging
The government is having a crackdown. And, as a result, I’m yawning. The government is always having a crackdown on something or other. Immigration. Dangerous dogs. Nipples in the newsagents. It’s always the same. A man in a suit goes on television and says, “We are having a crackdown.” And then nothing at all happens.
This month, the government is having a crackdown on careless motorists, or, as they’re known in the real world, Peugeot drivers. A man in a suit went on the TV to say, “We’re having a crackdown.” And then he announced what this will entail: slightly larger fines for those who are annoying.
This went down well with motoring organisations. When contacted by the Daily Mail, a spokesman for one such group said: “Make up any quote you like. I don’t mind. I just love seeing my name in print.” After this, it was discussed, I should imagine, on Question Time, during which a man from the audience in a terrible jumper said, to a burst of deafening applause, “When will Cameron and this Tory Old Etonian government realise we’ve had enough and that this crackdown cannot come too late.” And then various columnists wrote pieces on why the slightly larger fines are a good thing, or a bad thing, and now... nothing will happen.
Let’s take the issue of tailgating, for which you can now receive an on-the-spot fine of £100, making it as serious now, in the eyes of the courts, as burglary, light murder and smashing an old lady in the face with a bat. “Good,” shrieked green-ink Britain. “I hate being tailgated and I shall definitely vote Conservative, now that offenders are to receive the same punishment as rapists.”
Right. I see. And how exactly are these tailgaters going to be apprehended? By the police? Really? What police? Today, 64 per cent of the force is investigating phone hacking, 30 per cent are investigating the activities of disc jockeys who are dead, five per cent are involved with murder, rape and counterterrorism, and that leaves just one per cent for other duties.
On motorways, you have the traffic officers, whose job is to shut all three lanes for the tiniest of reasons, and that’s it. You never see an actual police car, which means there is no one to enforce the crackdown. But let’s say there were. How do they determine the distance between two cars that are travelling in the same direction as the police car at 70mph? And what’s too close? You know when you are being tailgated, because you can clearly see the pimples of the man behind in your mirror. But you cannot see when it is happening to someone else.
Anyway, let’s say there is a policeman and he does suspect someone is tailgating… then what? The man will say he wasn’t, refuse to pay the fine and the result will be stalemate in court. You were. I wasn’t. You were. I wasn’t. You were. Prove it. Officer Hatred says so. He’s wrong. He isn’t. He is.
The fact is this: tailgating is a pain in the arse. But, rather than trying to solve it by brake-testing the man behind, which will cause an accident, or waiting for the government’s crackdown to take effect, which will be never, how’s this for a plan? Pull over, and let the Audi go by.
Other offences to be nailed in the crackdown include using a phone while driving. That is not dangerous, actually. Texting is, but speaking on a phone is not, unless you are mad and deformed in some way. Then there’s jumping the lights. Hmmm. I’m thinking now. I’m 53. Have I ever seen anyone deliberately drive through a light that’s red? I’ve occasionally seen an amber gambler cut it fine, but sailing through on red? Nope. Never witnessed that. So the government may as well crack down on talking dogs or mice that play stereos too loud.
You will also now be fined £100 if you choose not to wear a seatbelt. I don’t even want to go there. I choose to wear a seatbelt because, to me, it makes sense. But if someone chooses to go without, that’s their look-out. It’s certainly no business of Patrick McThingy, the Secretary of State for Transport.
The big one, though, the news that dominated the headlines, is that people who hog the middle lane will be charged, fined and possibly slaughtered. I can hear the sighs of relief now, echoing around the land. “Yes!” you’re all shouting. “Finally a crackdown on the thing we hate even more than immigrant benefit-fraud paedophile scroungers. People who hog the middle lane should be executed.” Hmmm. I’m not sure about that, because the truth is that this would mean executing every single motorist in the country.
There was a time, in the early Seventies, when people did sit in the middle lane, and it was annoying. But those days are long gone. Because today, motorways are usually so busy, it is simply impossible to not hog the middle lane.
I’ve studied this quite carefully, and before you all start spluttering and reaching for the Basildon Bond, I urge you to hear me out.
Next time you’re on a motorway, find someone who you think could and should move over. It’ll take you a while as the inside lane is normally rammed with trucks doing 56mph. But let’s just say you find someone, trundling along, with their mind in neutral. This, then, is not the sort of person who you would class as a good driver.
And people who are not good drivers struggle when asked to do anything complicated, like changing lanes. But let’s say they do pull into the inside lane. Then what? Sooner or later, they are going to come up behind a truck and they’re going to need to overtake it. This will make them panic. Their head will spin round like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist as they scan their mirrors for a gap they can exploit. But they’ll misjudge it. And because their 2.0-litre diesel-powered Peugeot doesn’t accelerate very quickly, someone is going to have to brake. And that means, way back down the road, there’s going to be a crash. Someone may even die.
On balance, then, it would probably have been better if the not-good driver hadn’t bothered pulling over into what Michael McIntyre calls the loser lane.
He’s wrong. It’s the lorry lane. That’s what it’s for these days. And that means the so-called middle-lane hoggers are actually trundling down the inside lane of what is effectively a dual carriageway.
Changing lanes, if you’re awake and alert and a good driver, is absolutely no bother. It’s like changing pants. But, for those who are driving under the influence of Vera Lynn, it is often the precursor to someone else’s death. Which is why I am glad the crackdown will come to nothing. Because there’s no one to enforce it.
A much better solution is to widen motorways. But this is unpopular and will cause green-ink Britain to vote Labour. Which is why no Tory is ever going to suggest it. And will instead have a crackdown on internet porn.