Spot fines and safety on the roads: Confessions of a chastened petrol head

With new penalties looming Jamie Merrill decides it’s time to check his driving habits

In the passenger seat to my left is Steve George, an examiner from the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He has a clipboard in hand and is watching my every mirror, signal and manoeuvre.

I’m being assessed on the roads outside Sevenoaks in Kent the week the Government announced on-the-spot fines of £100 for careless drivers who put other roads users at risk by tailgating, middle-lane hogging and using their mobile phones on the go.

The idea, according to the Road Safety minister, Stephen Hammond, is to make it easier for police to tackle the “menace” of careless drivers without “having to take every case to court.” Surely I don’t need to worry, though? I’m The Independent’s car reviewer and all-round petrol head. I might occasionally drive a little too fast or pressure the car in front to move over, and I certainly don’t ten-to-two the steering wheel as the IAM recommends, but I don’t think I’m a lane hogger or get up the backside of the car in front.

The afternoon school run is in full swing, and having my driving scrutinised so closely is more nerve-racking than I imagine. It doesn’t help that the car I’m testing this week is a bright yellow Porsche Cayman.

Steve agrees it’s a great-looking sports car, but it isn’t exactly ideal for keeping my speed down during our hour-long driving standards assessment. And it only takes him a hundred yards to find fault with my driving.

“What did you do wrong just then?” It turns out I’d taken my hand off the wheel while going too quickly on a roundabout before changing gear in the middle of a sharp bend. I try to take this reprimand in my stride, but I soon start to sweat.

“In my experience most drivers think their skills behind the wheel are far greater than they actually are,” says Steve. It seems I’m guilty as charged but after a few miles I start to settle down. Thanks to his coaching I’m soon paying more attention to potential threats in the far distance and checking my mirror more frequently.

As we hit a stretch of derestricted road Steve explains how the IAM broadly welcomes the new measures, but worries “about how the police are actually going to be able to enforce them.” He has a point. Traffic police numbers have fallen by 29 per cent in the last 10 years to just 4,868 officers, according to Home Office figures. “Today you can drive hundreds of miles without seeing a traffic officer and the truth is that until tailgaters and road hogs get caught they won’t change their ways.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, many petrol heads agree. Dan Trent edits, a popular motoring website more usually associated with brake horsepower than safe stopping distances. “Middle-lane sitters and tailgaters are pretty high on the pet-hate list of our readers,” he says. “So anything that is proposed to tackle that is welcome. At the same time there’s a fair level of cynicism out there in the motoring enthusiast community that the police actually have the ability to enforce these changes.”

Back on the road Steve is trying to instil some advanced driving techniques in me before we hit the motorway and soon has me looking for the limit point – the spot at which you lose visibility around a bend. Once on the motorway he questions my every manoeuvre, forcing me to consider every steering input and dab on the throttle. “In my experience most lane hoggers lack confidence. They feel safer in the middle of the road and don’t have the training to realise how they should be scanning ahead,” he says.

“On the motorway you always need to be asking yourself why you’re in a particular lane. Are you gaining on the car in front? If not, it’s time to pull back over. There is also a great deal of ignorance about what the three lanes on a motorway are for. They are not the slow, medium and fast lane. They all have the same speed limit.”

After a nervous hour we pull off the motorway and I’m relieved to hear Steve tell me that I’m “generally a safe driver” and that my “mirror work and observation are good”. But I do need to watch my speed, he says, and scan harder for threats ahead. “A car is a lethal machine. It’s only as safe as the person behind the wheel,” he warns me as I head off, leaving more space than usual before the car in front.


Hogging the middle lane

This leaves the inside lane of a motorway under-used and can provoke dangerous manoeuvres.


Half of all drivers admit to this but, apparently, middle-aged men are the most likely culprits.

Looking but not seeing

Two in five accidents occur when the driver isn’t “looking properly”  or isn’t “paying attention to the road ahead”.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas