UK Traffic bugbears

Driving a motor vehicle is the most dangerous activity in which most people engage on a regular basis.  So one might think that people would learn how to drive more safely and pay more attention to it.  Yet many people do not do so.

One meets all types on the road.  Driving is one activity where you are forced to encounter the whole range of human behaviour, whether you like it or not.

On average, out of every six drivers, one will be an alert driver who wishes to make progress, four will be average drivers who are content to go with the flow, and one will be a slowcoach who frustrates even the average driver.  This is ‘Boyd’s rule of Six’ or Boyd’s ratio for human behaviour. Slow driving can be as dangerous as fast driving because it builds up frustration in other drivers, which leads to unexpected driving, which is itself dangerous driving.

There is a list of frustrations that need to be addressed, and why not on my blog?

In no particular order I will list some bugbears here, and if they need a long explanation I may find time to make future blogposts to address each one.

1. braking on approching a green traffic light, on the mistaken principle that ‘it might turn to red’.   This is what the orange light is for, to prepare you to stop.  The green light means Go.  This behaviour can lead to frustrated drivers overtaking or ‘undertaking’ to catch the green light that the slowcoach seems intent on missing.

2. waiting for ‘the green arrow’ when the main traffic light is green.  These drivers need to re-read The Highway Code.

3. self-appointed policing by blocking cars from overtaking a long queue on a dual carriageway. These blocking drivers think this is ‘jumping the queue’.  It is not.  It is making efficient use of Merge in Turn. Click here for an explanation. Another example of self-appointed policing is honking the horn at other drivers.

These bugbears are due to the failure of drivers to revisit The Highway Code.  When did you last buy one?  You no longer need to.  The Highway Code is available for free download.  Do you know the meaning of the copious signposts on the roads you frequent?  Why not begin by revising the common ones you meet, and improving your observational skills in the process?

4. driving too close to the vehicle in front, preventing following cars from overtaking because there is no gap to enter.   It is the commonest cause of road accidents. This is the one feature of thoughtless driving that would improve road safety and driver experience on the road if it was corrected. 25 Mar 2022: at last there is an advert against ‘tailgating’ . I have waited over 25 years for such a televised advert, which I saw tonight on GB News television.

5. inappropriate speed limits.  I have advocated variable speed limits for decades.  There are so many roadsigns that a few more to optimise speed would improve journey times and make drivers more alert.

6. not using wing mirrors.  Overtaking is not the most dangerous manoeuvre on the road, but turning right is.  The offside mirror is ‘the life-saver’ if it is used before turning right.  It is also essential before pulling out to overtake, and another bugbear is those drivers 1. who don’t use it and pull out just as the following vehicle is overtaking, or 2. who do use and see the following vehicle has pulled out to overtake, so they take the opportunity themselves to overtake and pull out in front of the overtaking vehicle.

7. a driver using a mobile phone, which can be more dangerous than driving with too much alcohol, and makes the driver slow down while using it.  Unusually slow driving may be a hint that the driver is on their mobile phone.  This lack of attention caused by their mobile phone extends to their lack of attention to realise that dashcams on other vehicles can capture them on their phone.  Do they not realise this?  If not, are such people fit to be driving the most lethal item the average person uses on a regular basis?

There are more bugbears, but these are enough to consider for the present.  Possibly I should declare an interest.  I have been a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists for almost three decades and as a Senior Observer I have taught Advanced Motoring.


8. one-handed steering.  Why rest your hand on the gearstick if you are not changing gear?  Two hands on the steering wheel distributes weight through both shoulders and it is essential for good steering.  Pushing a steering wheel with one hand is jerky; one should always initiate a steering wheel turn with a pull rather than a push.  Our arms are designed for this.  Can you see both hands on the steering wheel of the cars coming towards you?  Count the next ten cars coming towards you and find out what percentage of them are steering with one hand.

9. failure to use indicators in good time to tell other road users what they plan to do.  Pedestrians and cyclists are also road users.  Let the signal run for three flashes before changing position.  The first flash simply registers to other road users that something is happening, the second flash makes them pay attention and only by the third flash do they realise that you plan to change position and are thus ready for your manoeuvre.  Don’t signal and move at the same time.

10. some drivers have only one speed, so some drive at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone and remain at 40 mph on a 60 mph road.

11. driving too close to the preceding vehicle not only inhibits following cars overtaking but it intimidates the driver in front.  One should not respond to this intimidation by speeding up.  The preceding driver should slow down for two reasons, 1. to add the stopping distance of the following car to one’s own stopping distance, and 2. to enable and encourage the trailling car to overtake and remove the danger from your rear.

12. 18 Aug 2018: Parking bugbears: see comments below.  Even pedestrians can be intimidated by drivers.

13. 28 Aug 2018: Parking at church when public events are on; this links to the comments below.

More dangerous items:

14. The psychology of motoring. The Jekyll and Hyde transformation that seems to take place in most people when they get behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle.  This manifests itself in red mist, road rage, disregard for other road users, cutting up cyclists and pedestrians, and general disregard for the rules of the road.

15. 3 May 2019: why are speed limit notices placed within a short distance of turning a corner in a built up area? How many drivers notice them while negotiating a corner? Do road planners think that drivers will accelerate out of a corner at such a speed that their speed needs to change within a few yards? Surely drivers are more likely to see the new speed limit if it is located at a reasonable distance from the corner.

16. 15 Jul 2019: the opposite of item 1: accelerating towards a red traffic light or a stationary queue at a roundabout or junction. Can these drivers not see what is in front of them? Yes, they do, because they brake sharply when they reach the red light or the stationary queue – but the point is, why do they not see it before they begin or continue accelerating? Are they afraid that someone might overtake them if they begin to slow down?

17. 25 Mar 2022: at last there is an advert against ‘tailgating’; see item 4 above. I have waited over 25 years for such a televised advert, which I saw tonight on GB News television. Nigel Mansell, CBE, former British Formula One World Champion and President of IAM RoadSmart is quoted on the website: “There is absolutely no upside to tailgating – you will not get to your destination faster, you are not a skilled driver for doing it, and you are putting so many innocent people at risk. So I very much back this campaign to highlight the dangers of tailgating.” However, it is not only speedsters who tailgate. In every queue there are tailgaters. Many people do so ‘to stop others overtaking them into the gap’, but 1. this does not alter the speed of the queue of traffic; 2. the overtaking vehicle will soon overtake the next one anyway; 3. the gap makes the whole overtaking procedure safer for everyone concerned.

5 thoughts on “UK Traffic bugbears

  1. Dr Boyd I whole heartedly agree with everything you say in your “UK drivers bugbears” blog. When ever I am attempting to cross the road to the shops, I have lost count on the number of vehicles who turn corners and go straight through the traffic lights even when they are at red. Another thing that annoys me is when drivers decide to park on the zig zag white lines outside shops which usually are just past the traffic lights. Thirdly I’ve even seen vehicles double park when eg they deliver goods to the shops with the result being the queue of traffic behind the double parker can be quite long.


  2. We had a situation on two consecutive weekends when we could not park in the church carpark, because of a cycle race. On both weekends we had to park in front of the church near the hall door as the cyclists were cycling up past the main door. On the first weekend the stewards on hand were very helpful re showing us where to park and telling us to face which way etc. On the second weekend the police said “park over there pointing to the church but at your own risk” which we thought was dreadful.

    It is not the first time either that we have had such problems. In 2014 when the commonwealth games were in Scotland we had similar problems with parking on Sabbaths.


  3. I would have thought having cycling races going past churches and in some cases roads having to be closed for such events thus preventing people from attending church is at worst breaking the fourth commandment which says “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy” “six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work but the seventh day is the Sabbath”


    1. Donald

      David, there was a day when interfering with public worship was illegal, and it possibly still is. However, this is interfering with attending worship, which is probably another matter. I don’t know the civil law but it is ‘a law unto itself’.

      You have posted these ‘traffic related’ replies to the wrong blogpost so I have moved the last two from ‘Naming the sin’ to here: UK Traffic bugbears. This takes some time, so please comment on the correct blogpost. Thanks.


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