x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

It's time to break the bad habit of clinging to the middle

Fines for drivers who won't move out of the middle lane? This UK proposal could be profitably applied to certain practices beyond driving.

Next time you're stuck in traffic on Hamdan Street or Sheikh Zayed Road, spare a thought for motorists here in the UK. Compared with this hideously overcrowded isle, the UAE is a vehicular Shangri-La.

And now life is about to get worse for British motorists. We already have snarl-ups, soaring petrol prices and potholes large enough to swallow our cars, and now some bright spark in Whitehall has come up with the notion of on-the-spot fines for drivers caught hogging the middle lanes of motorways.

We all know who these culprits are: everyone but ourselves. Usually middle-aged, these drivers trundle along at the speed of a trotting horse in the centre of a three-lane motorway, sublimely oblivious to everything but their radio programme, sandwich or conversation - which is probably about the terrible standards of other drivers.

Any attempt to persuade these middle-lane meanderers to move over into the slow lane invariably proves fruitless, be it pumping your horn, flashing your lights, or even shaking your fist at them. All you get for your troubles is a look of mild bemusement via their rear view mirror.

Well, if these centre-ground roadhogs can't be influenced by threats or by entreaties, then perhaps hitting them in their wallet might prove a more effective deterrent. At least, that's the aim of the measures that were announced last week.

The idea is for police to be given the power to pull dawdlers over onto the hard shoulder and give them a £100 on-the-spot fine (plus three penalty points on their licence). Indeed, Stephen Hammond, the road safety minister, has already declared that such motorists are "a menace and their negligence puts innocent people's lives at risk".

Proponents of the scheme stress that any driver caught will retain the right to go to court to protest their innocence. In practice, of course, there's little likelihood that anyone will do so. Quite apart from the embarrassment of having to attend a judicial hearing, they simply don't have the time - they're too busy criss-crossing the country at a steady 40kph.

The proposal has come in for criticism from road users and civil rights campaigners alike, but I wonder if the government might be onto something.

After all, taking possession of the middle ground is something of a national obsession nowadays. Anyone who's tried to walk down an escalator, enter a crowded subway carriage, or negotiate a busy supermarket knows just how popular hogging the centre has become. So why not turn it into a handy revenue stream?

Think of the benefits: No more being trapped in the frozen food aisle behind glassy-eyed shoppers trundling their trolleys back and forth as if out for an afternoon stroll in the park. Instead, pull them over and slap a fine onto their shopping bill for causing an obstruction. While we're about it, we could introduce a congestion charge at checkouts during busy times. Such measures would improve the overall retail experience for the rest of us.

And why stop there? After all, it's in the Palace of Westminster itself that hogging the middle ground has reached epidemic proportions. When I was young you knew on which side of the divide your elected representatives stood. Those occupying the left of centre smoked pipes, lived on pies and sugary tea and talked of nationalisation and the sanctity of free collective bargaining. Those on the right, by contrast, wore chalk-stripe suits and polka dot braces, and stood for privatisation and the bracing economic reality of supply and demand.

No longer. They're all clustered in the middle now. Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and their parliamentary supporters have become bunched so tightly in their efforts to appeal to the widest possible demographic that political debate has become almost as constipated as the main M1 motorway.

So let's make the middle ground a punishable offence from now on.

Penalising any Member of Parliament caught hogging the centre ground when they don't need to would revivify politics and provide vital extra income the government needs so badly.

Never mind motorists and shoppers - fining our leaders whenever they stray too far from their election manifestos would surely clear Britain's national debt within just a few months.


Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London