If you drive on single-lane roads, you’ll ultimately be required to overtake a slower vehicle. This could be a tractor, lorry or simply a Sunday driver taking their time.

Overtaking on single-lane roads can be intimidating for newly qualified drivers – even some established ones – however it’s an important manoeuvre to master securely and with confidence.

What is overtaking?

Overtaking is passing another slower moving road user that’s taking a trip in the same direction as you. This is usually another vehicle, however it might likewise be a cyclist, horse or other road user.

Is overtaking on a single-lane road prohibited?

It is illegal if there are indications or road markings plainly forbidding it, or if it’s performed in a hazardous, reckless or unrestrained way.

Examples of this include when you do not have a clear view of the road ahead – maybe in bad weather, such as rain or fog – or if you should break the speed limit in order to overtake.

Can you speed to overtake?

As guideline 125 of the Highway Code states, the speed limit is the outright maximum you must drive on any specific road. This does not exclude overtaking. Going beyond the speed limit for any reason is dangerous as well as prohibited and could see you hit with penalty points, a substantial fine, or perhaps being banned from the roads totally.

While overtaking is, obviously, legal, there are rigorous rules about how and when it is safe to overtake – the most essential being that you need to only overtake ‘when it is safe and legal to do so’.

If you’re captured speeding while overtaking, you could get a fine up to ₤ 2,500 and 6 points on your licence, depending on your speed and the road you’re caught on.

The rules for overtaking safely

When overtaking on a single-lane road it is essential to follow these actions:

Think about if it’s needed. You may feel annoyed being stuck behind someone driving slowly and holding up your journey, but if you’re getting off that road soon anyway, is it worth the danger? How much time will you truly save yourself?

Ask if it’s safe to overtake. Check for ‘no overtaking’ signs in the road? Are there any hazards ahead such as pedestrian crossings or a junction? Are you coming near a bend or is there a dip in the road obscuring your vision? Never try to overtake unless you have clear views of both lanes of the road ahead.

Check both lanes. Do you have a clear field of vision? Will there be enough space (around 100 metres) ahead after overtaking? Keep in mind, you’ll not only need adequate space to accelerate to overtake, but also an area to pass the car in front and cross back over in front without causing them to slow down.

Bear in mind your car’s efficiency and power. Are you used to usually driving by yourself, but today you have guests and baggage in the boot? Or is the road uphill?
Do not assume you can follow another car that’s overtaking ahead of you. They might have judged that there is enough space for them to surpass, however there might not be for you too. Plus, you will not necessarily have clear view of the road when following another car.

Check your mirrors. Make sure the road is clear – not simply ahead of you in the approaching lane, but also behind you and in your blind spot – there may be a car or motorcycle about to overtake you that you don’t initially see.

Drop back a little and signal. This will offer you space to accelerate while signalling to the car in front of you (or any behind you) that you’re about to overtake.

Keep examining the road and your mirrors. If there’s an unforeseen hazard, you’ll need to drop back quickly and securely.

Speed up assertively. Ensure to overtake quickly and in a controlled, confident method.

Don’t cut up the driver you’ve overtaken. As a rule of thumb, don’t start to draw back across into your lane until you can see the entire overtaken car in your central rear-view mirror. Then smoothly draw back in and don’t stop speeding up until it’s safe to ease into your regular speed.

Can I overtake more than one car?

You must just do this if it is safe to do so and under specific conditions:

  1. The opposite side of the road is adequately clear to securely overtake
    2. There’s a suitable space in front of the vehicles you plan to overtake
    3. You have a clear view ahead of you
    4. A road user behind isn’t trying to overtake you

When should I not overtake?

You need to not overtake on a single-lane road in these situations:

  1. In poor weather conditions: such as rain or fog where you are unable to safely see the road in front of you.
    2. When you do not have clear exposure of the road: such as on a bend, a hump bridge, or on the brow of a hill.
    3. When the road markings forbid it: you may think it’s safe, but there may be a surprise hazards you’re unaware of.
    4. Approaching a prospective hazard: such as roadworks, a junction, school crossing, level crossing or a narrowing of the road ahead.
    5. If the vehicle in front of you is indicating right: even if their placing in the road implies they’re not turning.

Can I overtake if there’s double white lines?

It is prohibited to overtake if there are road signs or markings forbidding it. These road markings look like variations on double white lines; where the line nearest to you is broken, where the line nearest to you is solid, or where both lines are strong.

Double white lines where the nearest line is broken

Rule 128 of the Highway Code states you might cross these lines to overtake if it is safe and you can complete the manoeuvre prior to reaching a solid white line in your corner.

Double white lines where the closest line is solid

Rule 129 of the Highway Code says you must not cross or straddle these lines unless it is safe and you require to go into adjoining premises or a side road. There is one exception however; you might cross the line to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road upkeep vehicle, if they are taking a trip at 10 mph (16 km/h) or less.

Double white lines where both are solid

These are utilised to forbid driver from taking a trip in an area of the road used by the opposing circulation of traffic, typically where overtaking exposure is limited. You need to not overtake if it means crossing or straddling these double solid lines.

How should I overtake a horse rider?

You can overtake a horse rider however do so at a much lower speed. Provide as much room as you safely can – ideally more than you would a car. Turn down the volume on your radio, do not rev your engine, beep your horn or accelerate rapidly behind them – as these are all things that might easily scare the horse and cause an accident. Make sure to also keep watch out for signals from the horse rider to decrease or stop.

How should I overtake a cyclist?

Just like horse riders (and motorcyclists), make sure to give a minimum of the same space as you would do car. Just like all overtaking manoeuvres make sure to only attempt when it’s safe to do so and plainly suggest your intents.

We hope to have covered the main areas and tips to help you understand overtaking safely and efficiently. We are always updating our articles so be sure to check back or get in touch with us for more advice and driving tips.