It’s one of the most common driving manoeuvres, but overtaking can be daunting in the early days on the road. So, what do you need to know to start overtaking confidently and safely?
Everything you need to know about overtaking safely
What is meant by ‘overtaking’?
Overtaking is the process of passing something on the same side of the road as you. This could be a moving vehicle that is travelling more slowly than you – a tractor, caravan or simply a slow-moving car. Or another form of road user – cyclists, horse and rider or a group of pedestrians. It can be carried out anywhere that it is safe, when there is clear visibility and there are no signs or road marking denoting that overtaking is prohibited.
How do I know if overtaking is prohibited?
The road marking that indicates no overtaking is a solid white line on your side of the road divide. The no overtaking sign is a solid red circle enclosing parallel black and red cars. If either of these signs are present, it is illegal to overtake. The only exception to this rule is if you are behind a horse, pedal cyclist or broken-down vehicle. In these instances, it is acceptable to overtake as soon as it is safe to do so.
Two solid white lines means ‘no passing’ at all.
How to overtake safely
- Only overtake if it’s necessary. Almost every driver knows the frustration of being stuck behind a vehicle going at a snail’s pace. But if you’re going to be stopping or turning off soon, you really don’t need to overtake. Be patient. It’s only for a few minutes.
- Only overtake if it is safe to do so. As with any other driving manoeuvre, safety should be your main priority when overtaking. So, thoroughly check for potential hazards. Not just oncoming traffic, but pedestrians, bends or dips in the road, or anything that might obscure your view. In bad weather, it’s a good idea to avoid overtaking unless absolutely essential.
- Check both lanes. Can you clearly see both lanes ahead? Is there room for you to speed up, overtake and return to your side of the road without hazard? If not, wait.
- Check your mirrors and blind spot. Before you overtake you don’t just need to be certain that the road ahead is clear, but the road behind too. You do not want to pull out in front of a vehicle that is trying to overtake you. Keep checking your mirrors and windows for unexpected hazards throughout the process.
- Indicate. Other drivers need to know your intentions before you start to manoeuvre.
- Manoeuvre. Begin by dropping back slightly. This will allow you additional room for acceleration. That done, accelerate and pull out. Overtaking should be as swift and controlled as possible. Pass the vehicle, continuing to accelerate, and smoothly return to the correct side of the road, travelling at an accelerated speed until you are far enough ahead of the vehicle you have overtaken to return to normal driving speed without causing a potential hazard for them.
Other points of consideration: Don’t forget that your car’s performance, including its ability to smoothly overtake, will be impacted upon by factors such as the weight inside the car. So, if you’re carrying a heavy load, it will take you longer to manoeuvre.
Is it OK to speed when overtaking?
No. Speeding rules are enforced at all times. If you are caught breaching them, you could face a hefty fine.
Are there any times when I shouldn’t overtake?
There are plenty of scenarios where overtaking isn’t a good idea.
- If you don’t have clear visibility – approaching a corner, for example.
- If the road markings prohibit it.
- Bad weather – heavy rain, fog, snow and ice can make overtaking hazardous.
- If the vehicle in front of you or behind you is indicating right.
- If you are approaching a potential obstacle or hazard, such as traffic lights, roadworks, or pedestrian crossing.
Overtaking can be pretty unnerving when you first start learning to drive. You feel exposed. And the manoeuvre itself feels dangerous… And it can be. But only if you don’t learn how to do it properly. With due care, the right instructor and a little bit of – moderated – confidence, overtaking safely will become second nature.
The full set of UK rules for overtaking can be found in the Highway Code.
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