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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .

(January 2010)

I like to think I am tidy-minded. I try to keep my to-do lists in neat piles ó and the same goes for the paperwork on the floor that some of the lists refer to. Then in the corner thereís a box of various broken items, waiting to be glued back together. Next to it are several boxes containing things out of our old kitchen that we canít find space for in the newly installed one, even though itís bigger!

On the other hand, in the garage are some of the old kitchen cupboards which, when Iíve put them up in the utility room, will enable ... thatís the trouble, everythingís connected. The trick is to identify the job that makes other jobs easier, and get on with it.

But first I have a column to write. As I was saying: Iím tidy-minded. And I keep remembering that thereís a story left unfinished from last year. Back in April, Richard Porter [Thames Valley Group Newsletter Editor] wrote some strong words about the increasing amount of hatching you see laid down on the left-hand side of the road on the approach to roundabouts and junctions: itís quite a distraction, just when you are trying to cope with a hazard, it narrows the road unnecessarily, and it forces you into a tighter turn. But (he said) driving across the hatching isnít illegal.

Often the hatching has a solid white-line border, which you might think would make it a no-go area. Yet as I pointed out here in June, the Highway Code neatly avoids referring to this particular marking. Where the border is broken, the Code states that you may drive over the hatching provided itís necessary and safe to do so.

But my nose was sniffing for a clear answer to the question of the solid line ó especially as Iíve sometimes seen such hatching almost worn away by the quantity of traffic that plainly does cross it! Also, thereís a long stretch of this hatching (on the left, behind a solid line) locally, which I try hard to keep off. But whatís the legal position if, approaching the end of it, I cut the corner (accidentally or deliberately)?

The book Know your Traffic Signs ought to tell us ... certainly it has a diagram of a one-way road (a slip road, for example) with solid-border hatching against the right kerb, indicating that the road becomes narrower ahead. And the hatching is labelled forbidden territory. But the book makes no mention of it on the left-hand side of the road.

By the way, this tale is all about simple hatching, not chevrons as laid between parallel lanes of merging or separating traffic. Anyway, hot on the scent I looked next at the official Traffic Signs Regulations (available on the internet, like anything else these days). The diagrams there were clear enough, being much the same as in KYTS ó but interpreting the actual regulations was beyond me.

It was time to consult some experts, first the IAM Chief Examiner, Peter Rodger. As I reported in June, his advice to me was simple: if a road marking has a solid border, you must not cross it. He admitted, however, that highway authorities are ďnot always hugely careful about the exactness of markings...Ē

But the question was still on my mind, so I sent an e-mail to the Department for Transport. Back came a reply from a lady who explained the regulations on road markings to me most convincingly. A key section in them is a list of references to all the diagrams of markings that you must not drive over.

She pointed out that this list doesnít include the diagram of hatching with a solid border on the right of your lane (marked as forbidden in Know your Traffic Signs, see above), hence crossing this isnít an offence. Well, thatís a big surprise ó but I wanted to know about when the hatching is on the left, behind a solid line. Said the lady: this appears not to be prescribed or described in the regulations at all (except when itís at the end of a motorway hard shoulder). She suggested contacting a highway authority and asking them what it means.

Our authority is Wokingham Borough Council. Hereís the gist of the answer that came back from them: the main reasons for hatching at junctions are to narrow them visually and induce drivers to slow down. Itís a good method of non-intrusive traffic calming [try telling that to our Richard Porter!]. Your local stretch of hatching on the left with a solid line accords with Diagram 1040.3 in the Regulations [not so: thatís specifically for hatching on the right (which, I am reliably informed, one may cross)] ó and is unavailable to traffic [OK, I agree this is what the diagram says, but what does it mean?]. Legally, the markings tie in with the Regulations [no, they DONíT].

I replied politely with my objections to all this, but heard nothing further. It seems as if something has given local councils the idea of laying down hatching on the left here, there and everywhere, and often painting it with a solid border to warn us right off, even though there appears to be no legal justification for it.

At least hatching with a broken line gets a mention in the Highway Code, as I said. As for this other sort, I predict that the DfT will soon notice that it has spread across the country, realize the regulations donít cover it, quietly put a diagram of it (on the left) into the next update, and include both diagrams (left and right) in the Ďmust-not-crossí list, of course. Finally, solid-border hatching will appear as a prohibition in the Highway Code: one more set-back for drivers?

I might mention that this story was not written in just a single session of keyboard-tapping. Every so often Mrs S has whispered ďcupboard!Ē in my ear ó with the result that we have managed to complete that job too, including emptying the several boxes. Next: where did I last see the Araldite...?

Peter Soul

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