The Lost Art of Overtaking

I love bikes and being out there riding them. I particularly like riding them fast and adding to the experience by pushing the limits of grip of tyres in the corners and testing my nerve by going for gaps in the traffic when commuting and slaloming trees in the woods on the singlespeed. Not that I claim any particular level of skill in riding, but I think I can hold my own.

Now my main vice is that I have a penchant for cars, particularly fast cars. The term fast is relative to your experience of the sensual overload that speed induces. In about 30 seconds you’re ready to go faster and then faster again. At some point you discover that your car isn’t as fast as someone else’s and that puts you in your place and/or you discover that the combined driver skill (or lack of) and the mechanical engineering of the car are no match for the laws of physics and either gracefully (or not) you end up in a ditch, wrapped around a tree or trading paint with some other unsuspecting user of the Queen’s highway.

Now irrespective of the speed of the car, the highway code makes it clear that overtaking is fair game. Basic scenario. Driver in front is going slower than the speed limit of the road under the given conditions. Your stuck behind them and when the opportunity arises, you pass them. Before overtaking you should make sure:

  • the road is sufficiently clear ahead
  • the vehicle behind is not beginning to overtake you
  • there is a suitable gap in front of the vehicle you plan to overtake.

Overtake only when it is safe to do so. You should

  • not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
  • use your mirrors, signal when it is safe to do so, take a quick sideways glance into the blind spot area and then start to move out
  • not assume that you can simply follow a vehicle ahead which is overtaking; there may only be enough room for one vehicle
  • move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
  • take extra care at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance
  • give way to oncoming vehicles before passing parked vehicles or other obstructions on your side of the road
  • only overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right, and there is room to do so
  • stay in your lane if traffic is moving slowly in queues. If the queue on your right is moving more slowly than you are, you may pass on the left
  • give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would a car when overtaking (see Rules 188, 189 and 191.

Now none of this is rocket science. So why is it that so many people are prepared to sit there while someone drives 20mph below the speed limit? Why do so few people understand the concept of Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre? What is the correct way to react to people pull out to start their overtaking manoeuvre when you’ve already midway through yours? Maybe I should stick to riding bikes.

Author: Cris Bloomfield

Usually mountain biking in the North.

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