Safer overtaking

After only 6 weeks in my new position and having read through numerous case files, I have found that there is a common element to a small number of collisions that MLS deal with involving overtakes. This has prompted me to write a short blog on the official rules and guidelines for overtaking according to the Highway Code and Motorcycle Roadcraft, along with my own thoughts, reasoning and my understanding of how to overtake safely.

Let me firstly point out that I am by no means trying to imply that I know best or that I am a ‘riding god’ but having been a motorcyclist since I was 19 and then an Advanced Police motorcyclist for 19 years, I would class myself as having a bit of knowledge. And at the end of the day, if this blog makes sense to one person and they alter how they ride, then my aim has been achieved.
Old motorcycle
By their design and features, the modern-day motorcycle is the ideal vehicle for overtaking. Together with their need for less road space than vehicles on four wheels, that should make motorcycles the safest of all vehicles on which to overtake. The fact that they are not is because riders fail to appreciate all of the hazards involved.

So, what are the hazards faced when overtaking? Well, the most obvious being it places you on the opposing carriageway for a period of time. There is also consideration required as to the size, speed and intended direction of the vehicle you are overtaking, along with the closing speed of the approaching vehicle. Bear in mind, if you collide with an oncoming vehicle, the speed of the impact will be the combined speed of bike and vehicle. (60mph + 60mph = 120mph).

In the split second you decide to overtake, there is actually a whole host of hazards you need to identify and then deal with before you start.

Highway Code - Regulation 162 - Before overtaking you should make sure

  • the road is sufficiently clear ahead
  • road users are not beginning to overtake you 

  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

The beginning

Before you overtakeBefore you overtake, you should always ask yourself the initial question, ‘Do I really need to overtake this vehicle at this time?’

Think about the speed the vehicle ahead of you is travelling at. Will you be above the speed limit if you overtake it? Think about the road layout ahead. Is there a junction or bend coming up? If the overtake can be done at a safer part of the road ahead, JUST WAIT.

Let’s break down what an overtake comprises of. The manoeuvre requires space for you to build up speed, switch lanes, overtake the vehicle ahead, go back to the original lane, and return to the normal speed.

Highway Code - Regulation 166 - DO NOT overtake if there is any doubt or where you cannot see far enough ahead to be sure it is safe. For example, when you are approaching

a corner or bend 

  • a hump bridge 

  • the brow of a hill.

Highway Code - Regulation 167 - DO NOT overtake where you might come into conflict with other road users. For example, 

  • approaching or at a road junction on either side of the road
  • where the road narrows

If I hesitate before I carry out an overtake, then I don’t overtake. Simple. It’s all about being safe and not placing yourself in danger. Also, I never overtake on the approach to a garden centre.

Preparing for the Overtake

So, you've decided that the time is right, you are on an ideal stretch of roadway with no hazards ahead and you want to overtake the vehicle in front. Let’s just have a few more checks before we go. Is the driver of the vehicle ahead aware of you? Does the size or load of the vehicle prevent the driver from seeing you, or you from clearly seeing the road ahead down both sides of the vehicle? If you are unsure that the road ahead is unclear, then JUST WAIT.

All being well and having moved up from the ‘following position’ to the ‘overtaking position,’ you now need to prepare to pass the vehicle ahead.

The Overtake

When overtaking, you can adopt one of two methods: A one stage overtake or a three stage overtake.

A one stage overtake is the same as passing a stationary vehicle whereby you take the curved line around the vehicle. A three stage overtake is where you move up, then, without an increase in speed, you move across to the opposing carriageway, then if all is well, you accelerate past the vehicle and then return to your own side of the carriageway.

The 3 stage is my preferred option as it gives you an extra stage to look at the road ahead and see if it is still safe to go. If a hazard appears, you just move back in behind the vehicle in front and start the system again.

Another thing to remember, you should avoid following a vehicle into an overtake. I never follow another vehicle into an overtake as this is dangerous as you are blind as to what is ahead of you.

I dealt with a case involving a couple out on their motorcycles, who came up behind a slower moving tractor and trailer. They were intending to turn right into a café which was a short distance on the road ahead, so they remained behind the slow-moving vehicle. Another motorcyclist by now had come up and was following behind them. As the front motorcyclist indicated to turn right into the café entrance, the following motorcyclist accelerated sharply, thinking the rider in front was overtaking the tractor and trailer and thereby following him into the overtake. Both riders were badly injured as they collided as one turned right and the other was going straight ahead.

Overtaking several vehicles at once requires a greater degree of skill and awareness. If you are overtaking several slower moving vehicles, try to avoid passing them all in one fell swoop at an excessive speed. This leaves no margin for error and severely reduces the time you have to react to any vehicles turning right. Break the overtake down into small sections with each car being a section. Plan for return gaps between the vehicles, so if a hazard appears, you can safely move back in. But most importantly, ride at a speed that is safe and a speed that you could stop if a hazard arose.

Overtake Complete

Having safely made it past the vehicle ahead of you, all you have to do now is return to your own side of the carriageway. Before you move to the left, consider carrying out a lifesaver check to ensure that the vehicle you have overtaken is behind you and that it has not sped up.

Job done, now onto the next one!

Lee Fisher - Legal Assistant

Lee Fisher - Legal Assistant

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