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Purple car overtakes grey car. A car passes a truck.
Battle for position between Kuba Giermaziak, Norbert Siedler and Nicki Thiim during the 2012 Porsche Supercup race at Silverstone Porsche Symmetry - 997 GT3 Cup.jpg
Battle for position between Kuba Giermaziak, Norbert Siedler and Nicki Thiim during the 2012 Porsche Supercup race at Silverstone

Overtaking or passing is the act of one vehicle going past another slower moving vehicle, travelling in the same direction, on a road. The lane used for overtaking another vehicle is almost always a passing lane further from the road shoulder which is to the left in places that drive on the right and to the right in places that drive on the left.


Rules of overtaking

In English-speaking countries

On a single-carriageway/undivided-highway road, the lane used for overtaking is often the same lane that is used by oncoming traffic. An overtaking vehicle must be able to see clearly ahead of them for the entire overtaking manoeuvre plus a margin of error. For example, in New Zealand it's instructed in the Road Code that an overtaking driver must be able to see at least 100 metres (330 ft) of clear road in front of them as they finish the passing manoeuvre). [1] In the UK, guidance for passing and overtaking is given in rules 162-169 [2] of the Highway Code.

In some jurisdictions, the "overtaking zone" is indicated by a single broken centerline (yellow or white in most countries) if overtaking is allowed in either direction, or paired with a single solid line beside it to indicate there is no overtaking from the solid side. In the UK [3] and New Zealand, the format of the centerline is not used to regulate overtaking, only to indicate whether crossing of the line is prohibited or permitted. In Australia, [4] drivers can cross a solid centreline to overtake a cyclist.

In the Republic of Ireland, many national primary roads were upgraded in the 1990s and 2000s to wide two-lane road (two-lane road with space for three lanes, in addition to hard shoulders) to allow more space for overtaking (a very common manoeuvre in a country that had little dual carriageway until the early 2000s). However, due to the deceptive perception of safety given by such roads, future upgrade projects are likely to be 2+1 road where traffic volume suits (a successful pilot installation was used on the N20 near Mallow, County Cork). This form of road is of similar profile to wide two-lane, but includes a central crash barrier, and has three lanes, with an overtaking lane on one side or the other, alternating every 2 km. It has been used in Denmark and Sweden since the 1990s.

On a dual-carriageway/divided-carriageway highway/motorway or arterial road, any lane can be an overtaking lane though in many places (including Germany) undertaking (overtaking on the side furthest from the road centre line) is prohibited. Lanes are normally separated by broken lines (usually white) but may be a single solid white to indicate lane-changing is allowed but discouraged. Double lines indicate that lane-changing (for example to overtake) is prohibited, such as in tunnels or sometimes for HOV lanes and HOT lanes.

Overtaking in an HOV or HOT lane is usually illegal for cars that do not meet the HOV/HOT criteria, except when directed by the police.

A few places also use the one-broken/one-solid marking at slip roads/entrance ramps, to indicate to highway drivers that the new lane merges and does not continue, so they do not attempt to overtake in a lane that ends shortly. This is also used at other points where lanes merge.

In other countries

The no-overtaking-sign looks a lot the same in most European countries, but its legal description differs between countries. Depending on the text of law, in some countries in Europe the no-overtaking-sign bans overtaking only for vehicles that have three or more wheels, effectively granting motorcycle drivers the freedom to overtake cars even past the no-overtaking-sign, where the same sign rules out overtaking for all types of vehicles in neighboring countries. In other jurisdictions, like the Netherlands, overtaking vehicles that have only 2 wheels is not forbidden, despite the no-overtaking sign. The law text 'overtaking vehicles on more than two wheels' allows for overtaking bicycles, of which there are many on Dutch roads.

Nationwide ban on overtaking as road safety measure

The Netherlands has ruled out overtaking on 95% of their single carriageway primary road network. Statistics from before 1990 showed that many fatal accidents in the Netherlands were due to unsafe overtaking actions, where the speed of oncoming traffic was underestimated. During the 1990s a new road design was introduced, called 'Duurzaam Veilig' (Sustainable Safety). [5] The philosophy behind the new road design was that the road had to protect its users against death or injury, by creating a design that has to eliminate common mistakes that often lead to accidents. [6] This vision moves the responsibility for road safety away from the road users towards road designers. [7] The 'Duurzaam Veilig'-road design created 3 categories of roads: roads meant for local access, regional distributor roads (called 'gebiedsontsluitingswegen', or GOW) [8] and national through roads, each with their own type of lines on the edge of the road, so road users would be able to recognize what type of road they were on and behave accordingly. [9] By strictly separating slow moving local traffic from faster moving through traffic, the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project aimed at making roads safer through their design. [10]

One of the new features on regional distributor roads (GOW) was a wide double centre line, [11] often without interruption, designed to create more lateral space between two opposite directions of traffic and to stop people from overtaking. [12] Designers of the wide double centre line wanted to create some room for human error, so that vehicles swerving towards the centre of the road would no longer immediately lead to fatal accidents. The idea behind the solid centre line was the thought that overtaking cars have to move into lanes with oncoming traffic, which was considered unsafe even on perfectly flat and straight stretches of road with proper visibility. People in favour of the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project point out that it has succeeded in creating more safety, as the number of fatal accidents has gone down quite dramatically as 'Duurzaam Veilig' road design was rolled out across the Netherlands. [13]

Critics of the Dutch Sustainable Safety project complain that an overly safe road design has robbed Dutch drivers of their ability to think independently and correctly estimate when it is safe to overtake. Other critics point out that the idea behind the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project, that all traffic on Dutch distributor roads (GOW) would move at the same speed of 80 km/h is barely a theory. In everyday life on Dutch regional GOW-roads there are quite a few (elderly or insecure) people moving at 60 or 70 km/h, thereby annoying drivers who want to drive the legal speed limit of 80 km/h or slightly over it. Some critics even go as far as saying that the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project has raised aggression amongst frustrated drivers on Dutch roads, as it has robbed drivers from their freedom to legally overtake slower moving traffic. Haters of the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project also point out that, as the double solid centre line gets largely ignored by faster drivers who overtake anyway, it is actually dangerous that drivers nowadays are taking an uninterrupted centre line on a Dutch regional GOW-road less serious than they would back in the days when solid lines would only be applied on dangerous spots. [14] Opinions of critics of the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project are mostly discussed at truck stops and on internet forums, [15] in Dutch language, far away from decision-makers who proudly promote the Dutch Sustainable Safety project in English, to the rest of the world.

Vienna Convention on Road Traffic

In countries bounded by Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, article 11 [16] states that:

Local governments may introduce variations to the Convention.

Overtaking on the inside

Overtaking on the inside or undertaking [17] [18] [19] refers to the practice of overtaking a slower vehicle on a road using the lane that is curb side of the vehicle being passed; that is to say, a lane to the left of the vehicle in countries where driving is on the left, or a lane to the right of the vehicle in countries where driving is on the right. The practice of passing on the inside, therefore, usually only occurs on a motorway or other road where there is more than one lane in the same direction or when the width of the roads makes this possible (although there may be exceptions in the cases of contraflow bus lanes).

Many countries consider overtaking on the inside dangerous and therefore designate it a driving offence; however, most countries make the distinction between involuntary undertaking (passing centre side vehicles in heavy traffic) as opposed to the deliberate attempt to pass a slower moving vehicle for one's own benefit.

Overtaking road signs

Overtaking in racing

Nico Rosberg overtaking Nick Heidfeld in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix - a Formula One race Nico Rosberg overtaking Heidfeld 2007 Brazil.jpg
Nico Rosberg overtaking Nick Heidfeld in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix   a Formula One race

In racing, the rules allow overtaking from either side. Generally, the sides are classified as inside and outside overtaking, depending on the position of the overtaking car at the next curve since start of overtaking. The defending car usually blocks inside overtaking, because outside overtaking is riskier than inside overtaking.

See also

Related Research Articles

Traffic Road users travelling by foot or vehicle

Traffic on roads consists of road users including pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, streetcars, buses and other conveyances, either singly or together, while using the public way for purposes of travel.

Road traffic safety Methods and measures for reducing the risk of death and injury on roads

Road traffic safety refers to the methods and measures used to prevent road users from being killed or seriously injured. Typical road users include pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, vehicle passengers, horse riders, and passengers of on-road public transport.


Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian walks in or crosses a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules. The term originated with jay-drivers, people who drove horse-drawn carriages and automobiles on the wrong side of the road, before taking its current meaning.

Shoulder (road) Reserve lane by the verge of a roadway

A shoulder, hard shoulder or breakdown lane, is an emergency stopping lane by the verge of a road or motorway, on the right side in countries which drive on the right, and on the left side in countries which drive on the left. Many wider U.S. freeways have shoulders on both sides of each directional carriageway—in the median, as well as at the outer edges of the road, for additional safety. Shoulders are not intended for use by through traffic, although there are exceptions.

Dual carriageway Type of road

A dual carriageway or divided highway is a class of highway with carriageways for traffic travelling in opposite directions separated by a central reservation. Roads with two or more carriageways which are designed to higher standards with controlled access are generally classed as motorways, freeways, etc., rather than dual carriageways.


In road transport, a lane is part of a carriageway that is designated to be used by a single line of vehicles to control and guide drivers and reduce traffic conflicts. Most public roads (highways) have at least two lanes, one for traffic in each direction, separated by lane markings. On multilane roadways and busier two-lane roads, lanes are designated with road surface markings. Major highways often have two multi-lane roadways separated by a median.

Passing lane Lane on a multi-lane highway or motorway closest to the median of the road

A passing lane or overtaking lane is a lane on a multi-lane highway or motorway closest to the median of the road. In some countries, lanes are described as being on the 'inside' or the 'outside' of a road, and the location of the passing lanes will vary.

Bicycle law in California

Bicycle law in California is the parts of the California Vehicle Code that set out the law for persons cycling in California, and a subset of bicycle law in the United States. In general, pretty much all the same rights and responsibilities that apply to car drivers apply to bicycle riders as well.

Road surface marking Any kind of device or material used on a road surface to convey official information

Road surface marking is any kind of device or material that is used on a road surface in order to convey official information; they are commonly placed with road marking machines. They can also be applied in other facilities used by vehicles to mark parking spaces or designate areas for other uses.

2+1 road Design of road

2+1 road is a specific category of three-lane road, consisting of two lanes in one direction and one lane in the other, alternating every few kilometres, and usually separated with a steel cable barrier. The second lane allows faster-moving traffic to overtake slower vehicles at regular intervals. Traditional roads of at least 10 metres (33 ft) width can be converted to 2+1 roads and reach near-motorway safety levels at a much lower cost than an actual conversion to motorway or dual carriageway.

For driving in the United States, each state and territory has its own traffic code or rules of the road, although most of the rules of the road are similar for the purpose of uniformity, given that all states grant reciprocal driving privileges to each other's licensed drivers. There is also a "Uniform Vehicle Code" which was proposed by a private, non-profit group, based upon input by its members. The UVC was not adopted in its entirety by any state. As with uniform acts in general, some states adopted selected sections as written or with modifications, while others created their own sui generis statutes touching upon the same subject matter. As required by the federal Highway Safety Act of 1966, all states and territories have adopted substantially similar standards for the vast majority of signs, signals, and road surface markings, based upon the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Many of the standard rules of the road involve consistent interpretation of the standard signs, signals, and markings such as what to do when approaching a stop sign, or the driving requirements imposed by a double yellow line on the street or highway. Many agencies of the federal government have also adopted their own traffic codes for enforcement on the grounds of their respective facilities.

Climbing lane

Climbing lanes or crawler lanes are a roadway lane design. They allow slower travel for large vehicles, such as large trucks or semi-trailer trucks, ascending a steep grade. Since climbing uphill is difficult for these vehicles, they can travel in the climbing lane without slowing traffic.

Single carriageway

A single carriageway or undivided highway is a road with one, two or more lanes arranged within a single carriageway with no central reservation to separate opposing flows of traffic.

Driving in the United Kingdom is governed by various legal powers and in some cases is subject to the passing of a driving test. The government produces a Highway Code that details the requirements for all road users, including drivers. Unlike most other countries in the world, UK traffic drives on the left.

The road signs in Poland follow the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals and, therefore, are more or less identical to those in other European countries. Warning signs have yellow background rather than the more common black-on-white design, and therefore similar to the road signs in Greece.

Road signs in South Korea are regulated by the Korean Road Traffic Authority.

Road signs in Mauritius

Road signs in Mauritius are standardised traffic signs used in Mauritius according to the Traffic Signs Regulations 1990. They are heavily modelled on road signs in the United Kingdom, since Mauritius is a former British colony. Mauritius has left-hand traffic.

Roads in the Netherlands Overview of roads in the Netherlands

With 139,000 km of public roads, the Netherlands has one of the most dense road networks in the world – much denser than Germany and France, but still not as dense as Belgium. Dutch roads include at least 3,530 km of motorways and expressways, and with a motorway density of 64 kilometres per 1,000 km2, the country also has one of the densest motorway networks in the world.
The Netherlands' main highway net (hoofdwegennet), comparable to Britains net of trunk roads, consists of most of its 5,200 km of national roads, supplemented with the most prominent provincial roads. Although only about 2,500 km of roads are fully constructed to motorway standards, much of the remainder are also expressways for fast motor vehicles only.

Glossary of road transport terms Wikipedia glossary

Terminology related to road transport—the transport of passengers or goods on paved routes between places—is diverse, with variation between dialects of English. There may also be regional differences within a single country, and some terms differ based on the side of the road traffic drives on. This glossary is an alphabetical listing of road transport terms.

Yellow line (road marking) Type of road marking

Yellow lines are road markings used in various territories.


  1. "Key driving skills: The Official New Zealand Road Code". NZ Transport Agency .
  2. "Overtaking". Gov.uk.
  3. "Road markings and lines".
  4. "Road markings". Queensland Government.
  5. Sustainable Safety, English pages of Dutch website about the 'Duurzaam Veilig'-project retrieved 15 December 2019
  6. Principles for safe road design published by Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid (SWOV), Foundation for scientific research on traffic safety, retrieved 15 December 2019
  7. [pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/912871516999678053/Report-Safe-Systems-final.pdf Sustainable & Safe, vision and guidance for zero road deaths] report written by Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF), with support of World Bank and Bloomberg Philanthropy, retrieved 15 December 2019
  8. Regional roads (called 'gebiedsontsluitingswegen', or GOW) article on Wegenwiki, Dutch website about roads, retrieved 15 December 2019
  9. Distributor road published by Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, retrieved 15 December 2019
  10. Sustainable Safety in the Netherlands: the vision, the implementation and the safety effects, published by Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid (SWOV), Foundation for scientific research on traffic safety, retrieved 15 December 2019
  11. Picture of 'Duurzaam Veilig' centre line, with no interruption picture taken by Chris for Wegenwiki, Dutch website about roads, retrieved 15 December 2019
  12. Rijrichtingscheiding Separation of directions of traffic, article on Wegenwiki, Dutch website about roads, retrieved 15 December 2019
  13. Ten years of Sustainable Safety in the Netherlands; An assessment published by Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid (SWOV), Foundation for scientific research on traffic safety, retrieved 15 December 2019
  14. Asstreep, Centre axis line, article on Wegenwiki, Dutch website about roads, retrieved 15 December 2019
  15. Duurzaam Veilig; systeemdiscussie (Sustainable Safety project, systematic discussion) discussion thread on Wegenforum, where professionals in road design, road builders, maintenance crew and people who consider roads as their hobby have mostly serious discussions, retrieved 15th of December 2019
  16. "Convention on Road Traffic" (PDF).
  17. Inside refers to the edge of the road closest to the kerb and outside closest to the centre.
  18. 1 2 Drive Safe Handbook page 75
  19. Never undertake a Heavy Goods Vehicle
  20. "Passing on the left".
  21. "Færdselsloven". Article 21, LBK No. 1386 of 12 November 2013 (in Danish).
  22. "Færdselsloven". Article 24, LBK No. 1386 of 12 November 2013 (in Danish).
  23. The Highway Code - Motorways
  24. The Highway Code - Overtaking
  25. The Highway Code - Introduction
  26. California Vehicle Code Archived 2015-07-21 at the Wayback Machine § 21754
  27. Code of Virginia § 46.2-841
  28. Utah Code § 41-6a-705
  29. New York State Law Title VII Article 25 Section 1123
  30. South Dakota Code § 32-26-27