Sometimes when things change they do so loudly and with a great deal of publicity, with government announcements about policy change, or new laws. We’ve changed all sorts of things, that way – introducing seat belt wearing would be an excellent (if old) example.
Technology can be a change-driver as well – when did you last give a hand signal to turn at a junction? But sometimes things don’t change loudly but subtly because we, the people doing things in our everyday lives as individuals, change how we do them.
We can be encouraged to do things differently because of things we have seen done elsewhere – on foreign holidays for example – or just because circumstances feel different, usually because they are different.
Over the years it has gradually become more acceptable for motorcyclists and cyclists to filter through traffic, making their way to the front of the queue using the gaps between lanes of traffic that are stationary or slow moving.
In the late 1960s bus lanes were introduced to Britain, allowing buses to effectively do the same thing and work through the traffic without having to queue in the same way.
The motorway system has faced a similar difficulty in needing to allow traffic that is leaving it to have separated lanes, partly to improve safety and avoid large amounts of criss-cross traffic near the junction. In some cases this was to allow traffic to queue safely whilst other traffic passes, and in others probably to allow it to leave without queueing along the carriageway with the traffic.
All these things have a common factor I deliberately have not mentioned – they effective legitimise some traffic travelling more quickly on the left, relative to traffic on the right. In other words they permit overtaking on the nearside.
In the mid 1990s the introduction of variable speed limits on the motorways, starting along the western side of London’s M25, added a complicating factor by using “stay in lane” (or something very similar) as an instruction to drivers on the overhead gantries, and legitimising driving faster than traffic on your right at higher speeds than previously thought about.
So, gradually, we have been encouraged by a series of unconnected measures, no doubt unintendedly, to accept overtaking other traffic on the left. The practice is increasing, quietly, slowly and not without argument (just like so many other things in life change). There are those who are passionately against the practice. There are those who are passionately for it. There are those who would say it is illegal (there is no specific law banning it, but it can be seen as careless or inconsiderate driving if the evidence supports that), and those who challenge that.
But the change is visible on our roads – more overtaking on the left is happening on motorways than was ever the case in years gone by, as traffic levels rise. Will we come to regard it as normal, or will it for ever be something that is against “the rule of the road”?
Peter Rodger, IAM RoadSmart’s spokesperson