How To Master Overtaking

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Overtaking happens more than you probably think it does, and it’s also fairly common for you to have to overtake vehicles during your driving test.

Of course, when we talk about passing other vehicles, we most likely first think about overtaking other vehicles that are perhaps moving slower than you are.

The techniques of passing other road users are the same whether you are passing a slow-moving vehicle or a parked vehicle.

In a driving test, it’s most likely that you will have to overtake parked cars, although there are other scenarios.

For example, what if there are slow moving horse riders ahead of you that you need to pass?

Or maybe a bus that has stopped near a bus stop but is still blocking the carriageway?

Passing on a single carriageway also presents the clear and obvious danger of moving on to the opposite lane in which oncoming vehicles may be present.

Therefore, before you begin any overtaking manoeuvre, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:

Is It Legal To Overtake?

First thing to do is assess whether it is legal for you to overtake on this stretch of road.

Road markings are usually a good indicator.

For example, solid double white lines mean it is not legal to do so.

You need to be aware of what different markings mean.

Is It Safe To Overtake?

Safety is a huge consideration in any overtaking scenario.

Even when it is legal to overtake, it’s vital that you assess whether it is safe to do so.

Are there oncoming vehicles?

Are the dips, crests or bends in the road which prevent you from seeing far enough?

Do you know what’s on the other side of the vehicle you wish to overtake?

There are a lot of safety considerations to take on board.

Is It Necessary To Overtake?

Finally, so many accidents on roads that result from overtaking manoeuvres are totally unnecessary.

Take your time to evaluation what you will gain from overtaking.

Is it worth the risk to do so?

What You Will Learn

If you have answered the three questions above with a ‘yes’, then you need to be prepared to perform the overtake.

For the sake of this guide, we’re going to assume you’re driving on a single carriageway road.

This guide will help prepare you for the overtaking manoeuvre by explaining the correct process for making the pass.

We’re going to highlight some of the reasons which indicate that it’s not safe to overtake and also challenge some of the myths that exist when it comes to overtaking.

As always, we split the guide on how to master overtaking in to these sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

For consistency purposes, we’re going right this overtaking guide as though you are going to overtake a car that is in motion but moving slower than you are.

To pass safely, once you are certain it is safe and legal to do so, follow these steps:

  • Check your mirrors. This is a key first step as you need to be certain what is around you, both to the right side and behind. Primarily, you’re checking that no cars are already overtaking you, as some road users will try.
  • Check your blind spot. As with step one, you’re looking for any vehicles that may already be overtaking you.
  • Move to the right a little so you are still to the left of the centre line but have a clearer view of what’s ahead in the oncoming lane.
  • Match the speed of the car you are overtaking but continue to leave a safe distance behind them.
  • Look ahead and assess the road. Are there any bends, dips, crests, vehicles, junctions or other dangers in sight?
  • Check your mirrors and blind spot one final time.
  • Signal – put your right indicator on to show other road users that you are intending to overtake.
  • Pull out smoothly in to the opposite lane. Do not swerve out abruptly.
  • Increase your speed so that you pass the car. You may need to change gears to ensure your acceleration is quick enough. Also, leave enough room between your car and the one you are overtaking so that it remains safe.
  • Check your mirrors to observe that you have fully passed the vehicle that you’re overtaking.
  • Once clear, smoothly move back in to the correct lane.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

Overtaking is hazardous but done correctly it can be a useful manoeuvre to get past slow-moving vehicles.

Here are a few hints and tips to help you on your way:


When you’re assessing the safety of an overtaking manoeuvre, one important thing to look out for is junctions.

Even if it’s a small side road, if a vehicle was to pull out while you’re overtaking, it can have fatal consequences.

The junction can be on either side of the road – if there is one anywhere, make sure you are well past it before trying to overtake.

It’s not worth the risk and if you’re on your driving test, it will be a fail for overtaking on a junction.

Signalling To Move Back Into Lane:

It’s not actually a requirement to indicate to move back over in to the correct lane following an overtake, however, if you feel that other road users will benefit from you using your indicator for this, then do so.

Overtaking Buses:

Overtaking buses should always be done with extreme caution.

If a bus has pulled into a bus stop that’s off the carriageway, then you’re going to pass as usual rather than overtake, however, wherever the bus is pulled in, you have to be aware of what’s going on around the bus.

Passengers may alight and take their opportunity to cross in front of the parked bus – if you’re in the middle of overtaking, this is highly dangerous.

If a bus has blocked the carriageway by pulling in to a bus stop, it may be safer to wait than to try and overtake.

Always use discretion.

Do Not Follow Another Car Overtaking:

This can be a fatal error.

If another car has already passed, or is in the process of passing, the vehicle you wish to pass, then wait until it has completed the overtake and moved back in to the correct lane.

Only then should you begin the process of assessing whether it is safe, legal and necessary to overtake.

Useful Information

A useful piece of information relating to overtaking is speed limits.

Some people wrongly believe that you are allowed to break the speed limit for the purpose of overtaking, as long as you then reduce your speed back to a legal level once the manoeuvre is complete.

This simply is not true, and never has been.

Whatever you are overtaking and in whatever scenario, you must not break the speed limit to do so.

If you were to break the speed limit on your driving test, it’s an instant failure.

There are more useful pieces of information relating to overtaking in the highway code, including when it may be acceptable to overtake on the left-hand side.

Final Thoughts

A large number of accidents are caused every year through overtaking manoeuvres that have gone wrong.

Whenever you’re in a position to overtake, you owe it to yourself, your passengers and to other road users to properly and thoroughly assess the situation.

There will be occasions on an almost daily basis when you need to overtake a vehicle, for example a parked car, but no two scenarios are ever the same.

Do the proper analysis before overtaking and then get the steps correct when performing the move, and if you’re ever in doubt, do not overtake.

Further Resources