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Overtaking a moving vehicle

Overtaking a moving vehicle is arguably the most dangerous manoeuvre with the greatest potential risk. 

Before actually starting to overtaking, you need to satisfy yourself that the manoeuvre is safe, legal and necessary. 

You MUST not overtake where to do so would cause you to break the law and avoid causing other road users to change speed or direction. 

As local councils decrease the speed limits of many roads from national speed to as low as 40mph, opportunities to overtake on single carriageways are becoming few and far between. 

So the majority of overtaking manoeuvres are being limited to dual carriageways and motorways, leaving many drivers uncertain of how to overtake in two way traffic. 

Very simple advice is offered in the Highway Code, 'before you overtake you should make sure that the road ahead is sufficiently clear, make sure you are not about to be overtaken and there is a suitable space in front of the road user you plan to overtake. 

The routine

Like most elements of driving, observation is key to completing the process safely. 

To carry out the manoeuvre safely, you need to assess the speed and position of vehicles in front and behind.  On dual carriageways and motorways you need to identify a gap into which you can fit to change lanes, but when driving on two way roads (single carriageway) planning often needs to start earlier, because following traffic will not have the option of making room by changing lanes. 

The vehicle position needs to be near enough to the slower vehicle in front, to gain a good view of the road ahead, but without tailgating.  Remember the two second rule should be maintained throughout the manoeuvre and don't get caught up in the mist of overtaking at all costs. 

It could take a long time to overtake, for example, if you are travelling at 30 mph, it could take a quarter of a mile to complete and if an oncoming vehicle is travelling at the same 30 mph, you're actually approaching at a combined speed of 60 mph. 

Speed is the next consideration.  Consider the speed limit for the road you are travelling on, the speed at which you are driving, the speed of the slower vehicle in front and the speed necessary to complete the manoeuvre without cutting in. 

The gear selected needs to be powerful enough for quick acceleration past the slower vehicle, it's sometimes beneficial to change down for extra power. 

If you are travelling on a dual carriageway your speed must be sufficient to maintain steady progress without baulking traffic in either the lane you are in or the one you intend to move into. 

Looking into the distance you should be able to identify any potential hazards such as junctions, bends, pedestrian crossings or dips in the road.  Long hazard lines or continuous lines may precede the hazard. 

If, all is ok, make the final check and use the mirror, signal manoeuvre routine. 

Mirrors - Look behind to reassess the situation as the time it took to consider the above, may mean those behind have taken the initiative.  If it is not safe, you may have to abort the manoeuvre and start the procedure again.  Remember that vehicles coming up in the right hand lane may be moving faster than you are.  Watch out particularly for motorcyclists as they are difficult to see. 

Signal - Make your intentions clear, even if you are not being followed as it may be helpful for the driver or rider of the vehicle ahead.  If you are giving a signal, make sure that it's done in good time as this will allow other road users plenty of time to anticipate what you intend to do and could influence any action they may be planning. 

Manoeuvre - A sideways glance may be necessary before moving out.  This is just to the right out of the driver's window rather than over the shoulder (blind spot) check, because even a 40mph a car will travel 60 feet per second.  Move out on a smooth line around the vehicle you intend to overtake, without making any sudden movements and leaving adequate room as you pass.  It may be advisable to allow extra room when passing vulnerable road users, for example cyclists or horse riders. 

Try to make the manoeuvre quickly and as safely as possible. 

Before moving back into the correct driving line or lane on a dual carriageway, check your interior and left mirrors.  The vehicle you have overtaken should be seen in both.  This will ensure you have cleared the vehicle and are not cutting in. 

Consider if a signal is necessary before returning to the left although this may be misleading particularly on single carriageways. 

Overtaking on the left

Never overtake on the left, unless the traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than that of your lane. 

If the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right, you can safely overtake on the left or if you are correctly in the left lane to turn at a junction. 

In addition, you may pass on the left when in a one way street as vehicles may pass on either side. 

If other drivers are breaking the speed limit, avoid adding to the danger by trying to enforce the legal speed limit.