Whether it’s slipping past slow moving traffic or a deftly executed pass while enjoying a drive on a country road, the art of overtaking has been lost by many drivers.

It seems we’ve become a nation happy to dawdle behind slow-moving traffic for fear of speed cameras, road rage or being afraid to really use our cars’ abilities.

Overtaking used to be something most drivers would be happy and proud to partake in, especially when cars had a much greater performance advantage over trucks and vans.

Now, many drivers are unwilling or (frighteningly) incapable of completing safe overtaking manoeuvres and are prepared to cause tailbacks as a result.

The rules

The Highway Code is clear about overtaking and states that it should only ever be conducted when safe to do so. However, many drivers now err too far on the side of caution and create hold-ups where there should be an easy flow of traffic past any slower moving vehicles.

Selecting the right place to overtake is vital. You should never overtake in town unless the vehicle in front is travelling at considerably less than the posted speed limit or has a flashing orange light to indicate it will stop frequently.

Choose your moment

Overtaking in town is fraught with dangers, such as oncoming traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and hazards that are made invisible by other vehicles and buildings. You also have to balance the benefit of overtaking versus the dangers and advantage gained in time.

On open, faster roads, the benefits of overtaking slower traffic are much more obvious in reducing journey times and frustration. As with any overtaking move, you must plan ahead to make it safe for you, the vehicle you are overtaking and any surrounding vehicles or road users.

Give time and space to the vehicle in front so you have good vision of the road ahead. When you can see there is sufficient space for a safe overtake, check your mirrors and look to the side to make sure that another vehicle has not already started its own overtake.

The technique

Use a lower gear to get better acceleration, indicate and then move out, but don’t immediately start to pass the vehicle in front. Take a moment to use the improved vision to be certain there is no oncoming traffic, junctions or hazards that might make the vehicle in front swerve into your intended path.

With all of this accounted for, accelerate past swiftly and return to the left hand side of the road or left lane if you are on a dual carriageway. Often, a small wave of acknowledgement to the driver of the vehicle you have passed can ease the sting some drivers feel at being overtaken.

Don’t exceed the posted speed limit when overtaking. If the car in front is travelling at 58mph in a 60mph limit, it’s better to relax and follow at a safe distance than risk an overtake that could land you in trouble with the law.

There could also be hidden bumps, dips or corners so be extremely careful. There’s no point overtaking if in doing so you have an accident.

Space matters

Always give as much room as possible when overtaking, especially with cyclists. Be considerate when pulling back in and don’t just cut in straight away.

If the driver ahead is going desperately slow, it’s possible that they are either scared of the road, of driving in general or they might even be doing it deliberately to ‘prove a point’. It’s important not to get too close or drive aggressively. Such a state of mind can get you into big trouble.

Instead, give the car in front enough space and simply wait for your opportunity to overtake. By pre-selecting the most flexible gear for quick acceleration, you can maximise your ability to get past and be on your way.

By reviving your own art of overtaking, you can make journeys shorter, more enjoyable and also safer by making yourself a more aware and engaged driver.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us