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Keep Left…Unless Overtaking

On a recent trip to the UK, I couldn’t help but notice how major roads (including motorways) fared better with increased traffic volumes than here in Australia.  It wasn’t perfect by any means but it definitely seemed that in moderate to high traffic volumes, the traffic moved more smoothly and quicker than over here.

I’m pretty sure the reason is at least partly to do with the following:

In the UK, all drivers keep to the left lane where possible.

In Australia, this road rule is just ignored.

What this effectively does is turn a 3-lane freeway into a two-lane freeway.  It also encourages driver’s to undertake which is not ideal for a free-flowing traffic.  In an ideal world, the left hand lane should be the busiest with the middle lane less freqented and the outside lane rarely used (yes even in high traffic situations!).  However in Australia, the left hand lane seems to be reserved for trucks, caravans and old bangers.  The average driver seems to use the middle lane as the default, leaving the ‘slow lane’ for the speed-challenged drivers.

Keep Left Unless Overtaking

It’s not clear why this is done when there are signs on every freeway stating ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking”. 

Perhaps it’s a perceived safety issue.  A clear lane on either side gives the driver a little more distance between the car and potential threats such as trees or the median strip.  I’d argue however that being aware of cars on both the left and right sides is much more dangerous than just worrying about the one side if you were indeed keeping left.

I think the most likely reason is because so many people do it, you might be disadvantaged if you do tow the line and do keep left unless overtaking.  For example, if you come up to a slow truck, the busy middle lane might trap you in the left hand lane behind the truck unable to overtake.  So best to keep in the middle, that way you keep options open on either side?  this means you’re forced to break a law which negatively affects traffic simply because so many other people do it.  It’s s problem that’s created by the problem itself.

The solution lies in education and regulation.  We need:

1) Fines for people who hog the middle lane (have you ever met anybody who’s copped one of these fines?  It’s a hard one to enforce admittedly but surely we can do better)

2) Education that the middle lane is not the default and the left hand lane is not the ‘slow lane’

Think about how much money we’d save if, rather than spending billions on new roads and widening of freeways, we just learnt to make the most of our existing network by encouraging more ‘efficient’ driving.  Not to mention the increased safety.

What do you think?  Is this a real issue?  Would it make a difference or am I just a typical driver getting my own personal ‘pet hate’ off my chest?