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How to overtake a car safely?

20th Oct 2016 11:00 am

Pulling off a safe overtaking move is difficult with multiple hazards to look out for. Here’s a guide to getting past slower traffic safely.


Overtaking a slower moving vehicle is an essential driving skill one needs to master. However, it is also one of the most difficult manoeuvres to safely execute. In fact, unplanned and impulsive overtaking manoeuvres are among the highest contributors to road fatalities. At times, even experienced drivers falter for there are multiple hazards that one needs to look out for. And these vary depending on the kind of road being driven on and the traffic conditions. 

While driving on a dual carriageway, one needs to be sure that sufficient space is available to get the job done. But pulling off an overtaking manoeuvre on single carriageways is even more challenging as one must correctly judge the speed of the vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Additionally, one needs to keep an eye out for other dangers. Even more caution is called for while overtaking on wet roads and at night. Here’s a quick guide on how to get past slower-moving traffic without compromising your safety and that of other road users. 

Stay well back

One common folly made by motorists is following the vehicle they intend to overtake too closely. Irrespective of whether you are driving on a single or dual carriageway, drop back by
around 30 metres. This will allow you to see far ahead and spot potential hazards early on.

Check visibility

Never attempt overtaking on stretches where visibility is limited. You should be able to see far ahead with a clear view of approaching vehicles. Check the condition of the road ahead for it will let you plan your manoeuvre properly. 

Check your mirrors

The next step is to glance at the rear view and wing mirrors to check if another vehicle is about to overtake you. Apart from checking the mirrors, you should take a quick look over your right shoulder to ensure no vehicles are hidden in the blind spots.

Check for vehicles hidden in the blind spot.


Before you begin to overtake, ensure that you use the indicators to notify other road users about your intention. Also, honk and flash your headlamps a few times to warn the vehicles ahead that you are about to overtake. On single carriageways, pull out of your lane slightly to get a clear view of the road ahead. Select the right gear and start accelerating (this is not the time to think of fuel efficiency).

Check for hazards

As you move out, look for any hazards hidden ahead of the vehicle you are about to overtake. Does the car/truck need to move right to avoid a stationary vehicle, pedestrians or any other hazard?

Just because you see a decent gap in traffic does not mean you should execute an overtaking manoeuvre. Gauge if there’s sufficient space available to pull out of your lane, overtake the vehicle ahead and get back to your lane without any chance of colliding with an oncoming vehicle. At times, you might need to wait, observe and trail the vehicle in front for a few minutes in order to gauge whether it’s safe to go past.

Look out for hazards and gauge if the overtaking manoeuvre can be executed safely.

You should plan to be on the opposite carriageway for as little time as possible even though it might be empty for a sufficient distance. However, do not cut back in too early either as your car could end up brushing against the vehicle being overtaken.

Be patient

Driving on single carriageways can be frustrating especially if a queue has piled up behind a slower moving heavy vehicle. During such times, drivers tend to get impatient and are ready to overtake as soon as an opportunity arises. It’s not uncommon to see a driver blindly following a vehicle ahead that is already overtaking another one. That is a dangerous situation to get into because the vehicle might suddenly slow down due to a hazard and pull back into its lane. And even if the vehicle ahead does manage to pass through, there might not be sufficient space for you to pass safely. Bear in mind, being impatient in these situations could turn out to be deadly.

Make provisions for a safety margin.

Even if the above mentioned rules are followed, you should still prepare for the worst case scenario. For example, the road ahead could suddenly narrow down. Always assume that the closing speed of the oncoming car or truck is a bit faster. Similarly, assume that a fast car could come around the bend suddenly and you won’t have the time or sufficient space to react. Assume you will take a bit longer to pass and that the car you are trying to overtake is starting to accelerate. And always make provisions for a big safety margin.

Get a good look at what's ahead, not just a glance.

A seemingly harmless dip might conceal an approaching car which could result in a fatal collision mid-overtake. Anticipating the worst will keep you on the backfoot and out of harm’s way. Not everybody is blessed with stellar car control and reflexes which can save the day.

Also bear in mind, public transport buses have a tendency to not pull over at the bus stop and instead, just stop in the middle of the road. They also start pulling away without indicating their intentions. If the vehicle you are about to overtake starts accelerating hard then let it pass and never get into a race.


Pulling off a safe overtaking manoeuvre isn’t as easy as one expects and doing it right is even more difficult. Your brain has to process a lot of information and what makes it even more difficult is that the situation is changing every second. And whatever you do, be patient when you’re overtaking. 

Overtaking on wet roads and at night

This poses the biggest hazard and is something you need to be extra wary of.

  • At night you can see only as much as the spread of the headlamps allow.
  • Check that the windscreen is clean, its washing fluid is topped up and that the wipers are working fine.
  • Avoid getting too close to the sides of the road as the accumulated mud, slush and leaves are likely to reduce traction and could result in a dangerous skid.
  • There is less grip on wet roads. It affects braking and speeds at which you can take corners.
  • While changing lanes on dual carriageways, be careful on the painted lane markings as they don’t offer sufficient grip especially under wet conditions. 
  • Check the state of your tyres and whether they have sufficient tread.
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