Of all the manoeuvres everyday driving necessitates, overtaking is potentially the most hazardous. Since it’s quite a broad subject too, in this article I’ll focus on the most challenging of overtakes – those taken on two-way single-carriageway roads.
Whilst overtaking on two-way roads, inevitably we’ll be positioning our car onto the ‘wrong’ side of the road. With the potential for encountering oncoming traffic, it’s vital to ensure we can complete the manoeuvre safely. To assist with the planning involved, I teach a three-stage approach to overtaking expressed concisely as catch-match-dispatch.
The first stage involves catching the ‘target’ vehicle(s) and moving into an overtaking position. Closer than our usual discreet following position of at least two seconds, I encourage a ‘contact’ position which helps to communicate our intention to the driver ahead. Typically positioned towards the crown of the road and offset to the vehicle ahead, we’ll be afforded a clearer view of the distant road scene to assist with our decision-making. Whilst in contact, we shouldn’t be so close that we are of concern to the target vehicle’s driver, but sufficiently close so that during any subsequent overtake we can carry out the manoeuvre expeditiously, returning to our own side of the road in good time and without cutting in.
As we continue to assess the situation ahead we’ll be matching the target vehicle’s speed. Early on I suggest we consider the power and performance of our own car relative to that of the target vehicle. Also, we should pay due regard to the way in which the target vehicle is being driven. If it’s lane position or speed is wondering, it’s doubtful that we’ve been seen. As we continue to check our mirrors regularly, we may notice a driver eager to overtake us.
Observing the road well ahead, we should be looking to confirm that we’ll have enough time and space in which to overtake and return to our own side of the road before encountering oncoming traffic, junctions left or right, or other similar hazards. Selecting a flexible gear encourages our car’s engine to sing, so that it will be ‘on-cam’ with any turbo ‘on-boost’ and with plenty of poke available to our right foot when we need it. Paying attention as always to the road-surface, we should decide how much grip will be available and thus how much of our car’s performance we’ll be able to transmit to the road safely.
When we’re fairly sure that we can carry out the overtake safely, I’d suggest we move smoothly out onto the other side of the road without accelerating. Our aim here is to ensure that our judgement was sound and that the overtake is on without the obstruction to our view ahead which was the target vehicle. If at this final decision point we don’t like what we see, it’s easy to slot back into position on the near-side, having not yet begun accelerating. Assuming the overtake is on and having previously selected a flexible gear, we’ll have both hands on the steering wheel maximising control as we use the car’s performance to swiftly dispatch the target vehicle. If we’re dispatching a line of vehicles travelling in a queue, avoiding changing-up during the manoeuvre retains the ability to lift off the gas and thus smoothly slot back into the queue under the helpful influence of engine braking. A less courteous and more prevalent approach amongst some drivers is to change up during the overtake and, as a consequence, have to brake to slot back in.
Whilst there are many more points for us to consider prior to overtaking, by applying the aforementioned three-stage plan our safety margins can improve. We should find more opportunities to exercise our pride and joy, too!
Enjoy your driving,