A motorist ordered to pay almost £1,000 after being convicted for hogging the middle lane of the M62 in West Yorkshire has claimed officers picked him because he was “a white van man”.
Ian Stephens from Wigan, Lancashire, was pulled over after police claimed his driving in his white Citroen Berlingo was causing other motorists to swerve and that he had missed several opportunities to use the inside lane.
But Mr Stephens, who was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £440 after being convicted of careless driving, told the Daily Mail that he was only one of many using the middle lane and claimed that the costs were “extortionate”.
The 42-year-old said: “I couldn’t believe it when I saw a police car tuck in behind me and turn on his lights. I pulled over but was shocked when he told me he thought I should have pulled over into the inside lane.”
He claimed that the charge, which he is contesting, was a “complete over-reaction” from police and that he was “being treated like a common criminal.”
“I think the officers were simply trying to raise their tally for the day and saw a white van man and decided to nail me simply because they could,” he added.
Decorator Mr Stephens, who works with his 19-year-old son in and around Wigan, said he was caught by police in August 2013 while travelling home from visiting family in Leeds.
He was given five penalty points and ordered to pay a £500 fine, £400 in costs and a £40 victim surcharge at Leeds Magistrates’ Court.
The prosecution was hailed as sending out a message about the dangers of careless driving, but a Yorkshire road safety charity has warned that such prosecutions could become the exception as the number of police patrolling the nation’s roads decreases.
According to West Yorkshire Police, the driver had numerous opportunities to move back into the left-hand lane but failed to do so and chose instead “to drive in an inconsiderate manner”.
Officers say that on six occasions other vehicles approached the rear of the Citroen in lane two and had to slow to 60mph and then wait for a gap to move in to lane three to overtake.
PC Nigel Fawcett-Jones from the force’s Road Policing Unit said: “Lane hogging causes congestion and inconvenience to other road users. It reduces the capacity of roads and motorways, and can lead to dangerous situations where other drivers ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front to try and get the lane hogger to move over.
“Members of the public regularly tell the Road Policing Unit that lane hogging and tailgating are real problems on our roads and this conviction shows that the police and the courts understand the public’s concerns and take this offence seriously.”
Nick Reed, Academy Director at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, said: “The Highway Code states that drivers ‘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.’
“However, if a vehicle is ‘hogging’ the middle lane of a three lane motorway, only one lane is legitimately available to pass which reduces the capacity of the road network and increases the likelihood of risky driving behaviour, such as undertaking.
“Middle lane hogging can not only lead to factors such as increased congestion and collision risks, but can cause inconvenience and danger to other road users.
“For example, many drivers take pride in observing the correct “road etiquette” and can become frustrated and stressed by those that choose not to follow what they perceive as the correct protocol.
“This in turn may contribute to poor decision making and actions that might be considered unsafe, such as overtaking at inopportune moments or swerving in front of the lane hogger in an attempt to highlight the error.
“The current rules of the road have been put in place in an attempt to give some structure to a potentially chaotic system, so it’s important that they are obeyed for reasons of safety and to make best progress.
“Unfortunately, there will always be some drivers that choose to contravene the rules, but we should not let ourselves feel somehow victimised or angered to the extent that it may potentially compromise our own safety and that of other road users.”
The new powers to issue fixed penalties for careless driving, along with a £100 fine and three points on the driver’s licence, were announced by the Government in 2013 to make it easier for the police to tackle problem drivers.
The changes give the police greater flexibility in dealing with less serious careless driving offences, freeing them from resource-intensive court processes.
Officers who previously might have ignored low-level offences or let the driver off with a warning have been told to consider a fixed penalty and offer the driver a chance to go on educational training instead of having their licence endorsed.
Between August 16, 2013, and June 11, 2014, West Yorkshire Police issued 247 on-the-spot fines for driving without due care and attention, and 182 for driving without reasonable consideration.
In a similar period Humberside Police issued eight fixed penalties for careless driving, though 517 drivers were sent to attend courses, 48 were due to be brought to court and 232 faced enforcement action that had not yet concluded by last summer.
North Yorkshire Police officers handed out 48 notices for offences such as dangerous overtaking and failing to give way at a junction, lane discipline and “careless manoeuvres” between August 2013 and June 2014, while South Yorkshire Police issued at least 108.
Ed Morrow, campaigns officer for Brake, the road safety charity: “Brake welcomed the introduction of careless driving legislation that has made it easier for police to deal with offences such as tailgating and middle lane hogging, including through the use of on the spot fines.
“Hogging the middle lane can force other drivers to take evasive action to avoid a collision, so it is right that the police are taking action to tackle it. However, we urge other drivers to remain calm and not to give in to frustration by tailgating - this simply increases the level of danger for everyone.
“Our concern is that with traffic police numbers being continually cut, and police forces themselves saying they are being forced to retreat from motorways, there are simply not enough eyes on the road to adequately enforce the law on all forms of traffic offences - from speeding and mobile phone use to middle lane hogging and tailgating.
“Unless urgent action is taken to reverse the decline in traffic police numbers, convictions like this one could become the exception that proves the rule, without thousands more drivers getting away with taking risks and putting lives in danger.”
A spokesman for the AA said: “It is not a bad message to start the summer. If there are people who are driving off to holiday destinations and don’t do an awful lot of driving, it sends a clear message that staying in the middle lane is not just unacceptable but there is the possibility you might end up paying for it.”
Peter Rodger, Chief Examiner at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, who worked as the Metropolitan Police for 20 years as a traffic inspector, said: “All this behaviour was illegal before under ‘driving without reasonable care’, it has not changed in any way.
“If you are driving on the motorway at 70mph in the middle lane there will be people coming up behind you who may also think they are travelling at 70, but you are not travelling at the same speed.
“Your car can overestimate your speed by up to 10 per cent, so you may be driving at 61mph. What that means is if traffic is coming up behind you get out of the way because even if they may not be speeding. Move over to the left if it’s safe and sensible to do that.
“It’s great that the police are looking at the issue. It can cause problems and congestion and it causes frustration.”