The dangers of overtaking are significant as it usually requires driving in the potential path of oncoming vehicles. The overtaking manoeuvre increases the likelihood of a head-on collision where the combination of both the vehicles speed can often result in fatal consequences.

Signs and road markings provide visual overtaking rules and aid motorists by warning that bends in the road are ahead, or that it is illegal to overtake. Usually however, it's down to a driver’s own judgement for when it is safe to overtake.

The overtaking manoeuvres covered - of which one or more of these is highly likely to be expected during the driving test are:

  • overtaking a moving vehicle on the right (offside)
  • overtaking parked cars
  • overtaking cyclists
  • overtaking on the left (undertaking on the nearside)

The main overtaking rule above all else is common sense. Only overtake if you are absolutely certain that the manoeuvre can be completed safely, and without causing risk or inconvenience to other road users. Before initiating the overtaking manoeuvre, ask yourself these questions:

Is it legal to overtake?
Assess whether it is legal to overtake by locating no overtaking signs (see below) or continuous/solid white lines

Is it safe to overtake?
Ensure there are no bends in the road ahead or dips or hills and these will obscure oncoming traffic. Left and right junction up ahead can be hazardous as vehicles may emerge into the overtaking lane.

Is it necessary to overtake?
First decide whether it is necessary to overtake. If the vehicle in front is traveling close to the speed limit, there will be little to gain from overtaking. Are there queues of traffic ahead or a dual carriageway that will render the overtaking manoeuvre pointless? Assess also if it's worth taking the risk as driving only a few miles per hour faster will often only result in a few minutes of time saved.

How to overtake a car

Although road and weather conditions vary, the same procedure should be applied for how to overtake a car.

This overtaking routine should be applied at all times.  Once you have established that it is legal, safe and necessary, you should apply the following overtaking routine:

1.      Mirrors
Check the interior mirror followed by the right side mirror to assess traffic to the rear and ensure no vehicles are overtaking your vehicle. A quick look over the right shoulder may be necessary to ensure no vehicles are hidden in the Blind spot.

2.      Signal 

         Let other road users know of your intentions if it will benefit them. Remember pedestrians are also "other Road Users".

3.      Position
Position your car just to the left centre line and Hold back from the vehicle you intend on overtaking. This will give you the best possible view of the road ahead.

4.      Speed
Match your cars speed to that of the vehicle you intend on overtaking. You may need to change down a gear to increase acceleration whilst overtaking.

5.      Look
Look well ahead to ensure it is safe to overtake, that there are no oncoming vehicles, bends, dips, hills and that you have a gap to pull back into on the left Including a final mirror check.

6.      Manoeuvre
Pull out onto the opposite side of the road smoothly, accelerate briskly passed the vehicle you are overtaking, keeping a good safe distance from their side.

7.      Speed
It's important to accelerate briskly but safely to reduce the time spent on the opposite carriageway. Ensure you do not exceed the speed limit however.

8.      Mirrors
When you have passed the vehicle you are overtaking, check the interior main mirror followed by the left side mirror to locate the vehicle you have overtaken. When the front of the vehicle you have overtaken appears in the main interior mirror, take this as a safe distance to pull back into the left lane.

9.      Look
If for whatever reason you are unsure about where the vehicle is that you have overtaken or are attempting to overtake, look quickly over your left shoulder into the blind spot to ensure the vehicle is not hidden from your mirrors viewing angle.

It's not usually necessary to signal to the left when moving back into lane. If you feel that by signalling to the left may benefit another other road user do so.

Illegal overtaking

Do not overtake in the following situations

Overtaking on double white lines
Double white lines may be continuous or broken. Although there are exceptions, it is generally illegal to overtake or cross a continuous solid white line if the continuous line is on your side of the carriageway.

The exceptions are:

to turn into or out of a side road or property.

avoid a stationary vehicle blocking the lane you are travelling in.

 or to

overtake a cyclist, horse or road works vehicle moving at not more than 10 mph.

This overtaking rule also applies to a continuous white line that surrounds a hatched marking area in the road or chevron road markings, bus lanes and cycle lanes.

No overtaking signs
No overtaking signs are often erected in accident prone areas where high traffic flow meets hazardous roads. All circular signs edged with a red ring are regulatory signs informing motorists of an order.

As with the continuous white lines, the no overtaking sign applies to other vehicles on the road and not cyclists.

Overtaking on zig zag road markings
The white zig zag road markings are placed either side of pedestrian crossings and inform motorists that it is illegal to park, wait or overtake another vehicle within the zig zag area of pedestrian crossings.

Again, it is legal however to overtake cyclists at pedestrian crossings and within the zig zag area. See pedestrian crossings for further information.

Overtaking using cycle or bus lanes
Bus and cycle lanes are edged with either broken or continuous white lines. You must not enter a cycle lane edged with a continuous white line or a bus lane during its hours of operation.

Overtaking on the left

Overtaking on the left, overtaking on the inside, overtaking on the nearside and undertaking are all the same. Generally overtaking on the left is associated with dual carriageway or motorway driving. As a driving offence in itself, overtaking on the left is not illegal in the UK. The circumstances and the driver’s actions can however result in driving penalties, fines or court convictions such as careless driving or the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

Overtaking on the left is legally acceptable if driving on a multi-lane carriageway in congested conditions, the lane to the left is moving at a faster speed than lanes to the right. In these circumstances overtaking on the left is permissible although extra caution is needed for an awareness of other vehicles moving to the faster lane on the left.

It is also permissible to overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right. Overtaking on the left in these circumstances although permissible is subject to road markings and signs that may suggest otherwise.

Overtaking at a junction

Solid continuous white lines are often placed close to junctions to prevent drivers from overtaking at a junction. On certain roads, especially rural roads, such road markings may be non-existent. Overtaking at a junction is dangerous due to the lack of visibility

Overtaking on a one-way street

Providing road markings or signs do not restrict overtaking, you are legally permitted to overtake on a one-way street from any lane.

As the street is one-way, you will not have to deal with oncoming traffic, but you must ensure you follow the (MSM) routine correctly to ensure that other cars acknowledge your intention.

Overtaking buses

Depending on the location of your driving test, you may find yourself getting held up behind a bus whilst they stop at a bus stop. When driving behind a bus, try to look out for bus stops ahead to give you advance warning of the bus stopping and whether the bus stop has its own lay-by or whether the bus will be stopping in the road.

If the bus stop is on the main road, position yourself to the left of the centre of the road enabling you to see passed the bus when it stops. You can now assess the road ahead to establish if it is clear to overtake the bus.

Be cautious of busses. They can often pull away quickly soon after they have signalled their intention to do so. If the bus signals to move off, stay behind the bus and give the bus priority. Only ever overtake the bus if you have enough room to move back over into lane and not so that you remain alongside the bus.

It's not generally necessary to indicate to the right when waiting behind a bus as it's usually clear to other road users that you are waiting for the bus to move off or overtake it.

If in a moving queue of traffic overtaking a stationary bus at its bus stop positioned on the main road, if it is safe to, stop and let the buss move off. Bus drivers always signal their intention to pull over or move off.