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If you remember, I asked you this question:

"You're driving on a UK dual carriageway. The outside lane merges into the left because of roadworks. Should you...

1. Get into the left-hand lane as soon as possible.
2. Get into the left-hand, but leave enough of your vehicle in the right-hand lane to stop people 'jumping the queue'
3. Merge in turn. "

Unlike most such polls, here there is a definite right answer. Not a 'right' answer in the sense that "it is my opinion, and obviously I'm right because I know everything" but a right answer in the sense that this is what the rules say. In the UK, the rules for driving behaviour are set out in a booklet called 'The Highway Code' issued by the government Department of Transport. A UK driving licence is (theoretically) only issued to people able to demonstrate both a practical and theoretical knowledge of the Highway Code.

The Highway Code addresses the precise issue of how to drive when two lanes become one because of roadworks:

Rule 288, Roadworks: "Where lanes are restricted due to road works, merge in turn (see Rule 134)."

Rule 134, Lane Discipline: "You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily. Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, e.g. when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed."

Clarification on this from the Chief Examiner of the Institute of Advanced Motorists:
"...it is perfectly acceptable for vehicles from each lane to take it in turns to merge into the single lane. This reduces the length of road the queue stretches along and prevents blocked junctions...If you are approaching a long queue of traffic in only one lane, you should stay in the lane you’re in, even if it’s empty, as long as you reduce your speed. Even if you have to merge further down, it is worth using all the space available to avoid unnecessarily long tailbacks. When travelling alongside a queue of traffic keep your speed right down and be extra vigilant, as other drivers may be considering pulling out into the empty lane.”

That seems pretty clear doesn't it? Yet in my poll, several people answered incorrectly. (I'll excuse non-drivers and Americans who can't be expected to know any better...) Some people answered that merge-in-turn was a great idea in "other countries" but that we didn't have it here.

My own experiences recently suggest that as many as 80% of people would answer this question by saying that you should get into the left-hand lane as soon as possible, even if by doing so you increase congestion, delay other people and cause a dangerous tailback on what might be a 70mph road just before the tailback that you are adding to. There aren't that many people who would actually choose answer 2 (and try to block the outside lane), but I've definitely seen it done. Breaking the Highway Code isn't in itself illegal, so the get-into-the-left-hand-lane-ASAP crowd aren't technically breaking the law, but deliberately obstructing the Queen's highway is illegal and so is endangering other road users. I would like to see people who block the outside lane to stop what they (wrongly) see as 'queue jumpers' be treated the same way as any other dangerous driver.

And I'd reserve a special place in traffic hell for those morons (more often than not in Nissan Micras) who get into the left-hand lane five miles up the road, sit fuming in traffic while drivers who know their Highway Code drive past in the stupidly empty outside lane and who, when they finally reach the point where the two lanes merge, refuse to let anyone (in their wholly incorrect view) 'push in', even when the other car is clearly ahead of them, staring straight ahead all the time with their hands tightly gripping the wheel (usually in the ten past two position strangely) and when they do finally accept that they are behind and they do have to give way, decide that they are so offended by the other driver's superior roadcraft and brainpower that they will tailgate that driver all the way through the roadworks.

This happened to me the other day on my way home from work. The roadworks were resurfacing of the middle lanes of the Tamar Bridge between Devon and Cornwall. I was the driver in the outside lane and a middle-aged woman in a Nissan Micra was the moron.

What happened (philmophlegm fantasy version):
I stopped my car, removed my copy of the Highway Code from the glovebox and got out. I then walked slowly and calmly over to the Micra driver and when she angrily wound down her window, I tore out the page with rule 288 on it, read it out to the irate woman before screwing it into a ball and shoving it down her throat, explaining "You clearly can't read, so maybe this way you'll actually digest the relevant rule before criticising someone else who does actually know the Highway Code, you retarded fuckweasel." Then I pulled her out through the window and sat her on the bonnet of the car behind before picking up her stupid, tiny, chronically underpowered embarrassment of a car (with one hand) and throwing it over the side of the bridge into the Tamar Estuary.

What happened (in real life):
She tailgated me across the bridge and all through the subsequent Saltash tunnel where the speed limit is 30mph. Immediately after the tunnel, the road goes sharply uphill and the speed limit increases to 70mph, but many drivers start accelerating well before the end of the 30mph limit so that they don't struggle to get up the hill. A puny Nissan Micra will struggle to accelerate from 30mph to 70mph up that hill. A Porsche 911 will not. So I did the proper, law-abiding thing and stayed at no more than 30mph all through the 30mph zone (to be honest I do this anyway - I'm quite anal about sticking to 30mph and 20mph limits). And when we got to the bit where the road went uphill and into two lanes again, she pulled out to overtake, and I put my foot down and left her (easily). She made a rude gesture at me, which cheered me up no end. And then I wrote a livejournal post about it.



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 7th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
Sometimes the Highway Code has to be changed because drivers do something else which works just as well. (For instance, hazard warning lights for when you have to brake suddenly because of a queue ahead. I don't know whether they have changed the business about flashing headlights, but when a British driver flashes headlights at you it means "Come ahead" whatever the Code said/says.)

In fact, seeing as the cars have to merge at some point, the average time taken is the same whether both lanes are fully occupied or not. The tail back will be longer but the left hand lane moves faster if there are no cars merging from the right lane. And, psychologically, it is completely wrong for the British, who hate queue jumpers. (And everyone should be in the left hand lane anyway, unless they are overtaking, according to said Highway Code. Of course, this is precisely what does not happen on the M25, where the rule seems to be to pick a lane and stick in it, and bugger the Code.)

One of the most terrifying experiences for novice drivers in London (particularly in East London) is the merging of lanes at traffic light controlled junctions (three lanes become two beyond the lights.) While this means that the tail backs are not as long, the number of accidents increases - even though I learned to drive in these conditions, I still hate them and will try and be in the right hand lane - totally against the Code - so I don't have to merge.
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
If I remember rightly, I think this is actually a case where the highway code HAS changed - not sure how long ago. ISTR being pleased at the news, having been a regular commuter at a very busy location where you could regularly see unnecessary tailbacks being visibly caused by over-early lane changers and the resulting empty road space being in the wrong places.

I get the impression that most people don't keep up to date with code changes. Presumably as more younger drivers come onto the road having been taught this is the correct approach, the culture will gradually alter.
Oct. 7th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
"If you'd been in driving as long as I have..."
Oct. 7th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, but that still does not mean that each car gets through any faster.

Certainly when I was learning to drive (over 20 years ago) merge in turn was forbidden by the Highway Code, but the 'hazard lights when braking' rule had just been brought in in response to the fact that drivers had been doing it unofficially for years.

Keep in the left hand lane except when overtaking is still the rule, but I don't notice any change in the number of people not obeying it.
Oct. 7th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, but that still does not mean that each car gets through any faster.
If you spend half an hour stationary queuing on a feeder road which is raised above the main road enough that you can see exactly where everyone is getting on, off, and getting stuck, you can actually count the cars and work out the car spaces available.

If you do this, it becomes visibly clear that in fact, if everyone used the tarmac available to them, the people who want to be off the road would be able to get off it, allowing the people who wanted to be on the road to get onto it - and in fact all the cars WOULD get through faster.

If you have a 300-car dead zone between junctions, then the 300 cars that are not in the dead zone fill the road and tail back past the previous junction, and nobody can either get on, or get off.

The only person not affected is the person who caused the tailback by bossily straddling two lanes, who cannot see what is going on behind them.
Oct. 7th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Yes, but that still does not mean that each car gets through any faster.
But that, to be frank, is a very rare circumstance. I cannot think of a queue I have been caught in within the last ten years where that has applied.
Oct. 7th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC)
Still doesn't stop people panicking when they realise they have a lorry in front of them and one beside them and line of cars outside them and none of them are going to give way...

I've seen too many accidents at 'three lanes into two' traffic lights to be happy in that situation, particularly as many drivers don't realise that this is going to happen until they get beyond the lights and see the lanes merge ahead.

The only worse thing is a 'magic roundabout' and I will drive for miles to avoid those after one experience with them.
Oct. 7th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
What's a "magic roundabout"? I don't think I've come across that term.
Oct. 7th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
Magic roundabouts are rings of mini roundabouts - like the one in Swindon.

Oct. 8th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
Oct. 9th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
A ring of mini-roundabouts that functions as a single roundabout.

There are only two, and Wiki has articles on both



I came upon the Hemel one unawares when Ina was navigating me away from a huge traffic jam on one of the motorways. I have never forgotten the experience....
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
Tailgating someone is never acceptable, and I don't blame you for being annoyed about that, when you know that you are following the official rules.

The problem is that as you saw from your poll, most people in the UK don't work to those rules. Given the heavy social frowning on any form of queue-jumping (particularly when it looks as if someone who drives a fancy car thinks the rules don't apply to them) I think I would also have been glaring at someone who did the same thing you did.

There's no doubt that you are legally in the right here, but we're talking etiquette rather than law.
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
What's interesting about queue jumpers is that they rely on the prevailing social conventions to allow them to do it, specifically that it is considered rude to accost a stranger and harangue them for their poor manners. The worst they might expect is a tut or sigh in most cases so there is little disincentive.

As I happen to have to use a Park and Ride service each day I get to see a lot of queue jumping, poor queuing and general boorishness.
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, absolutely. I work in retail, so queue-jumping is a hazard we have to deal with on a regular basis - that's probably one of the reasons it bugs me so much. Only too often when it comes to that silent tug of war over whether someone can push in, it ends up with the poor shop-assistant being stuck with the final decision and somebody glaring at them whichever way they decide.

Edited at 2011-10-07 03:35 pm (UTC)
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
"This happened to me the other day on my way home from work."
I hadn't guessed! -N
Oct. 7th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Phear Phantasy Philmo Phlegm!!!
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
Some people answered that merge-in-turn was a great idea in "other countries" but that we didn't have it here.

Unfortunately it seems most drivers aren't aware of merging in turn.
There's a roundabout I have to use often where there's a queue most mornings; it's a dual carriageway that becomes single after the roundabout. Most people queue on the left and a few zoom down the right hand lane. When (if) the left is full all the way then the right also fills up. Merging by turn at the roundabout mainly seems to occur by chance; the usual practice is to attempt to barge past as many other cars as possible (from the right) or to block everyone else (from the left).
If the dual carriageway had signs saying "use both lanes in busy conditions" with another at the roundabout saying "merge in turn" then I suspect things would move more smoothly.
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
I was explicitly told by my driving instructor that there were some cases when the highway code should NOT be followed. I learned to drive in a place without dual carriageways (except for a tiny stretch) so this particular issue didn't come up. However, he said that there are situations when if all the other drivers are doing something that isn't strictly correct, then you should do the same, since to behave differently from everyone else and differently from the way everyone around you expects - even if technically correct - is more dangerous, and had been known to get people marked down in tests.

DOn't shout at me; I'm only quoting what I was told by the man who taught me to drive.
Oct. 7th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
I'd argue (without shouting...) that increasing the length of a tailback (potentially back past any warning signs) was the more dangerous option here.

You should of course be aware of the dangers of traffic pulling out from the stationary lane and should therefore slow down even if you are in the free lane, which is what the man from the Institute of Advanced Motorists* said: "If you are approaching a long queue of traffic in only one lane, you should stay in the lane you’re in, even if it’s empty, as long as you reduce your speed. Even if you have to merge further down, it is worth using all the space available to avoid unnecessarily long tailbacks."

* The god of driving instructors.
Oct. 7th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
I didn't answer because I don't drive, but I did suspect this post was prompted by an experience where someone didn't do what you thought they should! ;-)
Oct. 8th, 2011 11:43 am (UTC)
It was more the incorrect accusation that angered me, but you're essentially correct!
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )