Driving too fast can obviously be dangerous, and it’s important to remember that speed limits are not targets, but safe maximums. And, of course, you need to modify your speed in accordance with road and weather conditions.
That said, in certain situations driving too slowly can be as dangerous as driving too fast, for others as well as you.
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Don't stray too far from the speed limit
Interestingly, there is no minimum speed limit in the UK, except on certain stretches of road, such as tunnels. These minimums are marked by a round blue sign with white numerals.
Specified maximum speed limits have been set for some time. The 30mph limit in built-up areas was introduced in 1930; the 70mph motorway limit was set in 1965 following a spate of accidents in heavy fog, and became permanent in 1967 – when a minimum speed limit on motorways was ruled out.
However, driving too slowly or braking without good cause is an offence, coming under the scope of ‘inconsiderate driving’. This is defined as driving a vehicle on a road or in a public place without reasonable consideration for other people. In order to prove that you're guilty of this offence, prosecutors must show that another driver was actually inconvenienced by your driving.
The reason it’s classed an offence is that a car that’s travelling far below the speed of the vehicles around it can create a hazard for other road-users, as it’s unusual and unexpected. At the very least, a dawdling car causes concern as other motorists wonder what other unusual driving behaviour might be exhibited by the driver. HGVs may also be motivated to overtake, which can contribute to congestion as they’re slower than cars.
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Speed limits on motorways
Two situations where driving too slowly can really cause problems are when joining a motorway or dual carriageway, and in the middle lane of motorways.
The Highway Code states that when joining a motorway, you should check the traffic on the motorway and match your speed to fit safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane. This type of junction is not a ‘stop and give way’, although drivers can often be seen slowing down and driving in a hesitant manner.
The risk here is obvious: if the vehicles already on the motorway are travelling at higher speed, with a longer stopping distance, then a car pulling in front of a faster-moving car will cause that driver, and probably others further back, to brake sharply, in a domino effect, which can lead to collisions or near-misses.
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Don't hog the middle lane
Continuing to drive in the middle lane of a motorway, when the left-hand lane is free, became an offence in 2013, with a £100 on-the-spot fine and three points on the driving licence. Only 135 penalties have been issued, the first in 2015, although this offence can be covered by other terms such as careless driving.
The Highway Code says: You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past. Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking.
The risks of ‘middle-lane hogging’ are heightened when it’s done at slower speed than other traffic. At the very least, it causes stress and frustration in drivers behind, who have to reduce their speed, and consider overtaking.
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Two recent surveys reveal the extent of the problem. Confused.com found that 32% of drivers admit to hogging the middle lane. Amanda Stretton, the company’s motoring editor, said: “Middle lanes aren’t for coasting in, because this practice can cause congestion and dangerous manoeuvres from other drivers.”
A Direct Line survey showed that over-65s were most likely to middle-lane hog. Rob Miles, director of car insurance said: “Lane hogging causes congestion, reduces the capacity of the roads, and most crucially, can be dangerous. Motorists are risking their own safety and the safety of other road users, so we’d urge them to be aware of the other lanes and drivers around them when on the road. If the inside lane has space, you should move into it.”
This tendency to remain in the middle lane may increase with age. Researchers at the Institute of Psychological Science at the University of Leeds found that older drivers have a tendency to drive in the middle of the road to avoid manoeuvres that require fast reactions.
Slowing reaction times, eyesight and effects of medication, or anxiety about driving can affect the rate at which older drivers ‘read the road’ and comprehend signs and traffic patterns. This can lead the driver to slow down to gain more time to process information and react to it.
And it seems the issue of slow driving will be with us for some time; a Google driverless car was pulled over for driving too slowly by California police last year.
• If you’re concerned about your driving ability, many local councils offer older driver assessment schemes. Find out more at olderdrivers.org.uk
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