Because of my line of work I have more than a little experience of Bolton’s roads and one of the problems that I come across on a regular basis is the misuse of bus lanes in the town by the drivers who generally don’t have a clue how to use them – the qualified drivers.
THE POINT OF BUS LANES
I reckon that the bus lanes on the main routes into town on any given day are possibly the least understood pieces of road we have and the fact that I’m getting an increasing number of hits on this webpage means that they are being enforced more vigorously than in the past.
The point of bus lanes is obvious, to speed up the daily journey of people using public transport and as a spin off encourage people to leave their cars at home. Whether or not you think bus lanes work is a side issue and probably depends on whether you drive or use buses but the fact is that they are here to stay so how should we use them? The problem is that the average driver seems not to understand the rules and runs the risk of not only getting fined (it’s usually a non-endorsable offence so you typically won’t get points on your licence) but also possibly causing an accident and having to explain themselves to the Police/courts and their insurance company because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Many people are confused about just what to do, like someone I know who told me that she doesn’t really know what to do with bus lanes so she drives half in and half out or will play follow my leader with the majority of drivers. I had a pupil recently who covered bus lanes with me on a lesson but then had a practice session with his dad. On his next lesson he drove along outside a bus lane when it was outside of its operating hours. When I asked him why he replied “I know what you said but my dad told me to stay out of them just to be on the safe side”. On the other side of the coin I’ve seen drivers pulled in by the police for driving in bus lanes when they shouldn’t so if you don’t want to pay the fines then read on.
The Police used to enforce bus lanes but this has now been taken over by local councils. You will often see CCTV cameras along the length of bus lanes or (as is popular in the Bury area) a Smart car with a periscope style camera sticking up out of the roof. Click on the link below for information about Bury’s enforcement policy.
First you have to spot the bus lane. Look well ahead and pick out the blue sign that warns you the bus lane is about to begin. The problem is usually that many drivers think you can’t go into a bus lane at all and this just isn’t true. Some bus lanes are full time but many are open for use most of the time. Check to see if the sign has times on it or not. If the sign has times on it then it is a part time bus lane and is only in operation at certain times of day. These times would generally be the morning or evening rush hour but sometimes they are given as a much longer period. If the times given on the sign are for instance 7.00-10.00 am then between 7.00 am and 10.00 am you should stay out of the bus lane. The rest of the day you should drive in it if it is clear because if you don’t then you are in the wrong and could be forcing people to undertake.
NOT JUST TIMES. DAYS TOO!
To drive outside a bus lane when you should be in it is pointless and encourages people to overtake on the left which can be dangerous. Would you normally drive your car out towards the centreline without a good reason? That is what you are doing if you don’t check out the signs and act accordingly because outside of its operating hours it is as if the bus lane just doesn’t exist!
You should also make a point of checking which days the bus lane is operating because often the signs will carry additional information such as Mon-Fri or Mon-Sat on them. If this is the case then outside of the days given you can enter the bus lane as if it just isn’t there.
Across Greater Manchester an attempt has been made to standardise the times of bus lanes in a bid to avoid confusion so most timed bus lanes in Bolton will be in operation 7am to 10am (morning rush hour) and 4pm to 7pm (evening rush hour) Monday to Friday unless the sign says something different. If no times are given on the sign then read the next bit.
24/7 BUS LANES
Full time bus lanes are a slightly less complicated situation. Again you would look at the signs and if there are no times or days given on the sign then the bus lane is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and you should stay out of it unless you are crossing it to use a side road or parking bay. It really is that simple.
OVERTAKING AND PARKING
It’s generally permissible to enter a bus lane to undertake a car that is waiting to turn right if you can do so safely but make sure that your exit from the bus lane is clear before you enter it.
You should not overtake if you would have to enter a bus lane to do so. This might be relevant if you are in a situation where there is a contra-flow bus lane coming in the opposite direction.
Rule 141 of the Highway Code says:
Bus lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs that indicate which (if any) other vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane. Unless otherwise indicated, you should not drive in a bus lane during its period of operation. You may enter a bus lane to stop, to load or unload where this is not prohibited.
I have been asked several times what you should do if an emergency services vehicle such as an ambulance was to approach from behind with it’s lights and siren on the go while you are driving outside an active bus lane. Probably the best thing to do is not to panic and check your mirror to see what the ambulance etc, is going to do. Emergency services drivers are usually world class at indicating their intentions and there may be a flashing indicator there to give you a clue as to what they are about to do. Staying outside the bus lane would generally give them a way through the traffic but if the bus lane is (wrongly) full of traffic and you would delay the ambulance by staying where you are then I personally would get into the bus lane for a brief period if I could do it safely and let them through. Technically this would be illegal because you wouldn’t be complying with all traffic signs but I can’t imagine any court in the land refusing to believe that this would be ‘appropriate action’ (Highway Code Rule 219) in those circumstances and even if they do you for it you could have helped to save a life. What you would do is your decision.
On some routes bus lanes may appear to be almost continuous but you should look for the END marking for the simple reason that the operating times may be different on the next stretch of bus lane. At the end of the bus lane don’t just assume that everyone else will be doing the right thing and make sure that you check your mirrors before making any change of direction. Other drivers will often move into an active bus lane before the end and could easily be in your blindspot or vice versa.
There are some places around town where the presence of bus lanes can produce tricky situations either during their hours of operation or otherwise.
1/ A well known problem is that when the St Helens Rd bus lane between Hulton lane and Smethurst lane headed towards Bolton is active then cars heading into town are often faced with large vehicles coming in the other direction crossing over the centreline and almost meeting head on because of parked cars on the other side of the road. In my view this is absolutely lethal and needs to be changed. Will the council change it? Probably not.
2/ At the end of a bus lane close to a light controlled junction motorists are often hard pressed to get across to the left hand lane before the junction itself simply because no one wants to let them across. When the bus lanes are inactive drivers who wrongly stay out of the bus lane will readily wander across in front of drivers who are doing the right thing, risking an accident.
3/ Drivers coming the other way think everyone should move out of their way as they overtake the truck that is often parked on the right hand side as you approach the end of Deane Rd. Stick to the rules rigidly and you may get an oncoming vehicle in the face.
4/ On the University Way bus lane drivers turning left regularly go for the outside lane even when the bus lane is free to use and by doing so block off the view to the right of drivers doing the right thing. (Since this article was written the layout and road markings at this junction have changed to ease traffic flow and the bus lanes have been erased, still a good picture though!).