When you make the decision to overtake, it is worth bearing in mind, this may be the last decision you will ever make. For this reason it is essential that you get it right first time, every time.
When it comes to any driving manoeuvre, you have to ask yourself, is it safe, legal and convenient? When it comes to overtaking, you also have to ask yourself, "Do I really need to overtake"? In many cases, there is very little advantage to be gained because of traffic conditions. Only when you have answered "yes" to all these questions, should you actually commence the process.
Passing stationary vehicles is usually straight forward and does not present too many problems for most drivers. Overtaking moving vehicles on the other hand is a different matter and requires skill, experience and practice because hazards are moving and the situation is constantly changing. Overtaking requires careful observation and planning, the ability to judge speed and distance accurately as well as an awareness of what can do wrong.
To plan for 'what can go wrong' you should consider these types of questions:
- Can I see far enough ahead to be sure it is safe?
- Can I overtake without affecting any other vehicles' position or speed?
- Am I able to pull back to my own side of the road in plenty of time after completing the manoeuvre?
- Can I abandon the overtaking manoeuvre if another hazard comes into view?
- Will I come into conflict with any other road user?
- Will I end up making a third line of vehicles abreast at any point during the manoeuvre?
- Will it be legal to overtake here?
If you are in any doubt about answering these questions, then you should hold back and wait until conditions become more favourable. Assuming that you have confirmed that it is safe, legal, convenient and necessary to overtake, consider the following three stages.
Stage one - 'The following position'. This is the position we adopt when we have decided to overtake, but are prevented from do so immediately because of oncoming traffic, restricted vision or the presence of some other hazards. This position allows you to follow the vehicle in front safely while giving time to gather more information. Consider what you can see, what you can't see and what you can reasonably expect to happen, in the near, middle and far distances as well as behind and at the sides. For example:
- Does the road layout restrict overtaking or create any potential hazard itself?
- Is the vehicle in front aware of your presence and what is he likely to do next?
- What is the performance of our own vehicle and that of the vehicle to be overtaken?
- What is happening behind, are we about to be overtaken ourselves?
- Is anything restricting our view of the road ahead, are you 100% certain it is safe?
- Do you have enough space and time to overtake safely?
Stage two - 'The overtaking position'. This position is closer than the 'following position', this minimises the distance you need to travel, while indicating to the driver in front that you intend to overtake. You should only hold this position for the minimum time because you have less time to react if the vehicle in front suddenly slows down. If the overtaking opportunity diminishes due to a change in circumstances, then you should adopt the 'following position' once again to regain safety margins.
From the 'overtaking position' take information in front as well as behind. Use this information to formulate an overtaking plan.
The exact location of the 'overtaking position' depends on the potential dangers at the time. As a general rule however, the larger the vehicle in front, the further back you should be so that your vision doesn't become restricted. It is also worth bearing in mind that the closer you get to the vehicle in front the more intimidating it is for the other driver and dangerous for you. If you are following a truck or a bus for example, you may move into a blind spot directly behind the vehicle and the other driver may not be aware of your presence.
Signal and adjust your speed to match that of the vehicle in front and only then select a gear which will give you the flexibility to carry out the whole overtaking manoeuvre, without having to change gear again when you are on the opposite side of the road.
Stage three - 'Overtaking'. From the 'overtaking position' you need to continuously take information in front and behind so that you can identify the opportunity when you have sufficient space and time to overtake safely.
Before changing position, you should once again observe in front and behind. As a general rule, move out to the offside position without actually increasing your speed. This will present you with a good view of conditions ahead without committing to overtaking. If you decide that overtaking isn't an option at this point, then you can safely return to your own side of the road.
Adjust your speed to overtake the vehicle safely and efficiently. As mentioned above, you should have already selected the required gear to complete the manoeuvre without having to change gear again. Obviously if it becomes necessary for safety reasons to change gear while actually overtaking, do it, but consider the reason/s why this was required and try to learn from the experience.
Use acceleration sense to overtake safely and smoothly so that you can slip into a gap in front of the overtaken vehicle. As a general guide, you should not return to your lane until you can see in your interior mirror that you have safely passed the other vehicle.
Acknowledgement: The National Safety Council