Overtaking Other Vehicles

Overtaking is potentially one of the most hazardous manoeuvres a driver may make. It just has to be performed safely, or not at all. Your “Really Good” instructor has the experience and skill to train you in overtaking safely, and, after passing your driving test, please consider booking the “Pass Plus” course or at the very least taking some motorway tuition. Almost certainly you will need to overtake on the motorway at some point and there is no better way to gain confidence and competence.

It is vital to give all types of road user space when overtaking them, as we should never intimidate or force other traffic to take action on our behalf. It is our responsibility to exercise sound judgment when deciding if overtaking is safe, but please remember the Highway code advice; “if in doubt, do not overtake.” The Highway Code has a special section on overtaking and lists numerous situations where overtaking is either illegal or dangerous – see rule162 to 169. Here are a few examples:

Where you see a “No Overtaking” sign.

In the area of “zigzag” lines approaching a pedestrian crossing.

If it would involve crossing double white lines where the line nearest to you is unbroken – with some exceptions.

NEVER overtake on the left unless traffic in the right hand lane is turning right, or is moving in queues and the queue on the right is moving more slowly than the left.

Risk Factors to Consider on Different Types of Road


When overtaking on a motorway, the danger of oncoming traffic should not be present, however, other vehicles could pull out from in front of you or from behind just before you are about to move out. If so, abandon your overtake and give way to them. Look out for traffic congestion and roadwork’s ahead which could make overtaking both unnecessary and dangerous.

Dual Carriageway

A dual carriageway may present opportunities to pass slower moving or parked vehicles, but remember such as pedestrians, traffic lights, and vehicles waiting to turn right may be ahead.

Single Carriageway

Overtaking on a single carriageway has a higher risk factor. This is partly because of the possibilities of another vehicle travelling towards you – and two vehicles travelling towards each other at 60mph have a “meeting” speed of 120mph!


Rural, or “country” roads can be the most dangerous of all places to overtake, such are the amount of bends and hills. Very commonly, you will just not be able to see far enough ahead to overtake safely – here, patience is required when following behind a slower vehicle such as an agricultural vehicle or cyclist. Don’t be tempted to take overtake unless you are certain it is clear.


Always think and look carefully before overtaking.
It may be that the vehicle in front is so close to the speed limit that to overtake would make little difference to your progress anyway. Remember that overtaking takes time and therefore, distance. If the vehicle in front is near the speed limit you could easily travel a very long way before passing it. The Driving Manual states it could take “a quarter of a mile just to catch up with a vehicle 200 metres ahead travelling at 15mph, if you are doing 30mph.”

Observe the vehicle in front for a while.
Is it about to pull out?
Has that driver noticed a problem ahead?
Is it about to turn off to the left anyway?
Is it a large vehicle which has been slow to go uphill, but can gain speed very quickly if about to go downhill?

Choose your overtaking place carefully.

Be really certain you can see far enough ahead and behind to be clear. Just because a vehicle in front of you overtakes, does not necessarily mean it is safe for you to follow. Verify this for yourself. Make sure you can return to your side of the road without causing any vehicles coming towards you, or any vehicle you are overtaking, to slow down, stop or swerve to avoid you.

Prior to Overtaking
Check all the mirrors to assess the speed and position of traffic behind you.
Keep enough distance from the vehicle in front to see ahead clearly, but close enough to pass smoothly when the time comes.
Before overtaking, make sure you will be able to have enough power to pass briskly. Think about using a more powerful gear to gain quick acceleration. Avoid breaking the speed limit.
Assess the whole situation including the driver ahead’s possible intentions, any hazards, the condition of the road, and the speed and position of any oncoming traffic.

Recheck all your mirrors, especially looking out for anyone about to overtake you.
Give a right signal before you move out to overtake. Even if no one is behind you the driver/s you are about to overtake need this information.
Having let your signal operate as a warning – not just a wee quick flash – now make final checks ahead and behind. On seeing it is safe, move out to pass in a smooth easy line, avoiding any sharp change in position. When you have changed position, overtake smartly and when you have past the overtaken vehicle/s check the interior and left door mirror. When you can see the vehicle/s you have passed in these mirrors, you should be sufficiently past them to avoid “cutting in.” Now give a left signal, which will help alert the driver you have overtaken that you intend returning to the left. Again, when you are sure it is safe to move back to the left, move in by steering in a smooth easy line.

After Overtaking
Now, having returned to the left, cancel your left signal. Remember that you could also be overtaken, so once again check all your mirrors to verify the position of traffic behind.


Overtaking safely needs help and guidance from your instructor until you have built the necessary skills and knowledge. Make sure you get familiar with the rules in the Highway Code and please don’t forget it’s essential advice – IF IN DOUBT, DO NOT OVERTAKE.