How to overtake, safely

While you may think you know how to overtake safely, this is something to be done with extreme caution. The overtaking decision is a serious decision and the faster the traffic, the more serious a decision to overtake is. 

There are of course many reasons to overtake a vehicle, whether it has two wheels, four, 18 or more. However, you should not overtake simply to impress your passengers, to show off your vehicle’s performance or, worst of all, as an expression of your anger or impatience with other vehicles on the road. 

There is a simple rule of thumb that dictates whether you overtake or not:  If you are in the slightest unsure about overtaking, DON’T!

However, as road users we all need to pass/overtake a vehicle from to time so here are a few pointers to help you, as the ‘behind vehicle’, to do so safely, not only for yourself but for the vehicle you are overtaking.

According to Arrive Alive, the seemingly simple manoeuvre of overtaking/ passing other moving vehicles accounts for a high rate of fatalities on South African roads.  Overtaking moving vehicles requires skill, experience and practice because the dangers to you are ‘on the move’, they are not static, making the situation more ‘fluid’ or changeable/unpredictable than one can imagine. When poorly executed, the passing procedure can quickly turn a few seconds on the wrong side of the road into a nightmare, not only for you but for your family as well.

Considering the overtaking manoeuvre

 A decision to overtake should start with the question “Do I really need to overtake”?

Any driving movement, which covers a multitude of options of which overtaking is but one, should answer these three questions in the affirmative before being undertaken:

  1. “Is it safe?” 
  2. “Is it legal”
  3. “Is it convenient?”

Overtake only when it is safe, legal and convenient to do so.   you make the decision to overtake you should bear in mind that this may actually be the very last decision you will ever make. An extremely sobering thought indeed!  For this reason, it is crucial that you get it right the first time, every time.

 Finally, position your vehicle in such a way that it allows you to carefully consider your decision to pass. Continue thinking at all times, do not lose concentration!  Consider if the road layout restricts overtaking or in itself creates any potential hazards? Is the vehicle in front of you aware of your presence and what is he likely to do next?  What is the performance of your own vehicle and that of the vehicle to be overtaken?

Importantly, what is happening behind you, are you about to be overtaken yourself?  Is anything restricting the view of the road ahead, are you 100% certain it is safe?  Do you have enough space and time to overtake safely?

The mechanics of how to overtake safely

Some basics to consider.

Do not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake.  A decent following distance dramatically increases visibility, an essential component of safe overtaking.  As a general rule the larger the vehicle in front, the further back you should be so that your vision doesn’t become restricted.

Constantly make use of your mirrors to check if the area around you is clear of obstructions.

Accelerate smoothly (there is no need to race ahead – if you find yourself racing you know that the situation may be getting out of your control so rather pull back behind the vehicle you are trying to pass and wait for an opportunity to overtake later.  Use your indicators to signal that you are moving out of your lane into the one on the right.  Take a quick sideways glance into the blind spot area of your wing mirror.

And then, and only then start to move out.  Concentrate all the time, do not allow anything to distract you.  Pass the vehicle in front and move smartly and smoothly back into your original lane.  Do not swerve back into the original lane; move over gradually so that you can eventually see the vehicle you passed in your rear view mirror.

Reduce your speed to what it was before overtaking.

In other words, once you have overtaken the vehicle, indicate left (namely that you are returning to the left lane), and lift off the throttle slightly.  Backing off the acceleration will to some extent provide a measure of safety as it will assist your vehicle’s steering.  BUT, do not suddenly slow down, others might be following you and also be overtaking and you do not want to pose a risk to them or the vehicle you have just passed.  Once you are safely in the left lane again, cancel your indicator and resume a safe/legal speed.

In summary, and as a general rule, when overtaking, move out to the offside position without overly increasing your speed.  Driving experts will tell you that fast acceleration and unnecessary speeding are dangerous just before overtaking.  If you do fast accelerate, the distance required for safe overtaking reduces rapidly and could result in an accident.

A final word of warning when passing cyclists. 

Remember that your vehicle, especially if it is a large one like a truck, can almost suck a cyclist closer to the vehicle going past or even have the opposite effect of throwing the cyclist to the side to fall off the road entirely!  Vehicle drivers need to take special care and give more attention to road conditions when overtaking cyclists.