Overtaking is one of the most risky driving manoeuvres. Here, we give you some tips on how to overtake safely and stay calm behind the wheel.
Overtaking always involves risk, whether you’re on a multi-lane city motorway or a single lane country road.
So the number one rule is: if you have any doubts about the safety of overtaking, don’t do it.
To the right
You must overtake on the right unless you and the vehicle you want to overtake are travelling in marked lanes on a multi-lane road or the vehicle you want to overtake is waiting to turn right and giving a right turn signal – in these cases you may overtake on the left side if it is safe.
Judging when it’s safe
This is the difficult bit, particularly for new drivers. Country roads can be tough: speeds are high and the road may be unfamiliar to you. As a new driver, it’s best to be extra-cautious about how much road you need to overtake. Forget about the line of traffic behind you and be patient.
- Ask yourself: do I really need to overtake? Remember, as a Learner or P1 licence holder, your maximum speed is restricted (80 km/h for Learners and 90 km/h for P1 drivers). And it doesn’t matter what licence you have, you cannot go above the speed limit to overtake.
- You must not overtake unless you have a clear view of any approaching traffic and you can complete the manoeuvre safely with plenty of margin for error.
- Don’t begin to overtake when approaching a crest in the road, a curve or any other situation where your view of the road is limited. Remember that even on a straight stretch, a dip in the road can conceal an oncoming vehicle.
- On country roads, look out for signs indicating that there are overtaking lanes ahead. These offer a safer place to overtake but care is still required, particularly when traffic is heavy.
- Be sure to look carefully ahead at what is happening. A vehicle ahead of the one you want to overtake might be stopping or stopped at a pedestrian crossing, intersection or railway crossing. Also watch for vehicles waiting to turn right.
- If the road narrows ahead there might not be enough room to safely overtake.
- Check side streets and other lanes to ensure nothing will enter your space while overtaking.
- Don’t overtake a vehicle that is slowing down, it may be slowing to make a right turn into a street or driveway.
Crossing the line
You can’t overtake across a solid (continuous) line, unless the line closest to you is broken. But remember, just because a line is broken it doesn’t mean it’s safe to overtake. You have to judge the circumstances for yourself.
When you’re ready to overtake
- Check your mirrors.
- Signal that you’re going to change your position for long enough to give sufficient warning to others.
- Check your blind spots before turning your wheel to move out.
- Overtake and pull back into your lane with plenty of space between you and the other vehicle. You should be able to see the vehicle you have overtaken in your rear vision mirror before you change lanes to move in front of it. You must also check your blind spot to pull back in.
- If you’re overtaking on a country road at night (a situation that requires extreme caution), then you need to think about your lights. You may find it necessary to put on your high beam when you draw level with the car you’re overtaking so you can get a good view of the road ahead.
When you overtake another vehicle, you’re allowed to briefly flash your high beams immediately before starting to overtake.
If you’re being overtaken
- Don’t increase your speed. This will make the situation more risky for everyone on the road.
- Keep left and allow reasonable space for the overtaking vehicle to pass and move back into the lane.
- Keep within your lane.
If you’re driving on a multi-lane road, you should stay in the left lane unless overtaking. If the speed limit is over 80 km/h or there is a ‘Keep left unless overtaking’ sign then you MUST keep left.
If there are three lanes and the left lane has many vehicles travelling at a slower speed than you, stay in the middle lane. After you have passed them, you should return to the left lane. The right lane is generally reserved for overtaking so move out of it as soon as it is safe.
Bikes of all kinds
Allow motorcycles as much space as a car when overtaking.
If you’re overtaking a bicycle rider, give them at least one metre of space to the side in a 50 km/h zone. If the speed limit is higher, you need to give the cyclist more space.
Country driving requires special care. The higher speed means that when things go wrong, it usually happens very quickly.
The NRMA has some good tips on avoiding dodgy overtaking behaviour by other drivers. They encourage drivers to look far ahead up the road. This will allow you to position the car correctly for the road conditions and alignment and to see potential problems before you have to deal with them.
An impatient driver in a line of oncoming traffic is a potential danger. The driver might be poking his or her car across the centreline, looking for the slimmest opportunity to overtake and potentially endangering everyone else on the road. If you see this, you should slow down, keep an eye on the dodgy driver as he or she approaches and move as far to the left as you safely can.
Many people believe you are allowed to go above the speed limit to overtake as long as you drop back again after the manoeuvre. This isn’t true – you cannot break the speed limit at any time!
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