Overtaking may be a commonplace occurrence, but it is also a continuing source of anxiety both for new drivers and experienced road veterans alike. This is understandable considering the number of factors, both human and environmental, involved in the process.

Overtaking on two lane road

What is defensive driving?

Defensive driving is a driving style concerned with maintaining command over your vehicle at all times and enabling yourself to make appropriate responses to the external stimuli. Its three tenants are control, distance, and awareness; you should keep control of your speed, maintain a safe distance from other drivers, and stay alert to your surroundings.

The primary aim of this driving style is to encourage you to steer clear of the seven deadly sins on the road and reduce the likelihood of car accidents. It is important to note, however, that defensive driving too requires you to know how to handle speed and overtake effectively to maximise safety on the road.

Two lane road with difficult turns

When is it legal to overtake? 

The basic premise behind overtaking regulations in the UK is this: you should only overtake when it is safe and legal to do so. Here, the term ‘legal’ refers to the laws that govern the fragment of the road you’re travelling on at the time of overtaking.

Where shouldn’t you overtake?

  • When you are approaching a corner (or if you’re already at a corner)
  • When doing so will require you to exceed the speed limit 
  • When it is prohibited on the road in question (signified by the ‘no overtaking’ sign)
  • When doing so endangers your life and/or the lives of others

Overtaking in the aforementioned scenarios constitutes overtaking dangerously and recklessly. This carries a minimum fine of £100 and 3 points on your license, but it can be increased to an uncapped fine and 9 points on your license if the danger is very severe, or in the event you actually end up causing an accident. The only time you should overtake is when doing so poses no risk to you and others, and when you would not be breaking any other laws by doing so.

No overtaking sign

How to overtake a car

The concept may seem trivial, but it is actually rather complex. This is because there are so many aspects to consider when it comes to overtaking. For instance, overtaking a car at night requires more caution, especially if you are on a single lane or country road. You should consider your vehicle’s capabilities, and verify the conditions allow you to safely complete the manoeuvre. Pay special attention to visibility and the surface of the road, and if you do decide to overtake, make sure you...

  1. Look ahead: Ensure you have enough clear road ahead of you to overtake. Do not overtake on or near corners, and definitely do not assume you will be able to follow the car in front of you as it’s overtaking
  2. Check your mirrors: Be especially cautious when overtaking on a dual carriageway or motorway. Look out for cars or bikes coming up behind you; adjust your car mirrors properly, and always account for the blind spot.
  3. Drop back slightly and signal: Once you are certain it is safe to begin overtaking, drop back slightly and signal your intent. This will give the cars behind you (and the vehicle in front) an indication of what you are about to do.
  4. Move out and up: Move out into the opposite lane and accelerate assertively (though not aggressively) to allow yourself to overtake effectively. Expect to increase your speed by at least 10 mph.
  5. Don’t move back in immediately: Make sure you can see the vehicle you have overtaken fully in your rear view mirror before you move back into the lane. Once you are back in the correct lane, you may slow down to a more comfortable speed in a controlled manner.

Vehicles on motorway

Car overtaking can seem daunting at first, but it is important to remember that the only point at which you are legally required to overtake is when not doing so could pose a more serious threat, for instance, when you are stuck behind a slow moving tractor and the driver behind you is becoming agitated. Above and beyond all else, remember to prioritise health, be cautious of your surroundings, and drive at a speed that allows you to react in time to whatever the road throws at you. Do that, and you will have truly earned yourself the status of a defensive driver.