This seemingly simple manoeuvre accounts for a high rate of fatalities over the Christmas break, second only to driver fatigue, and if poorly executed can quickly turn a few seconds on the wrong side of the road into a nightmare.
Often the problem is a lack of familiarity with either the geography and/or the ability of the car under conditions we as drivers are not accustom to. All year there’s usually you - the driver - and little else in the car, but on holidays with a car full of kids, clothes, kit and caboodle, the driving dynamics of your car are changed dramatically.
With that in mind, here are a few tips that could help make things safer for you over the break. Keep in mind, your actions affect not only you and your passengers, but those in cars around you, so drive safely.
Step 1: Leave a gap. As funny as this may sound, you need to go a little slower than the vehicle(s) you intent to overtake. At least three-seconds gap is recommended (count the time it takes for the car in front to pass a fixed object and count to three). The biggest mistake you can make is to get too close to the car in front. This is done for two reasons.
Reason One: If you are too close to the car in front, the moment you start overtaking the difference between your two speeds is zero. Hence more time is spent building speed. If however you are three seconds back, you have an additional three seconds to gain speed before you’re on the wrong side of the road – meaning less time over the line.
Reason Two: Hanging back a little dramatically increases visibility, an essential component of safe overtaking. If you’re too close you can’t see ahead, and when you do get on the wrong side of the road, you’ll have little chance to change your mind without jamming on the anchors. Remember, it’s harder to stop an accelerating car.
Step 2: Gear down. By having the car already in the lowest possible gear, even on an automatic, your engine speed is already up meaning you don’t have to wait for kick down and can begin accelerating when the chance arrives.
Step 3: Trust your judgement. Weather, road and car condition all play their part in a safe overtake – so does your own judgement. A tired driver will make simple errors, so rest up the night before a long trip. If you have enough space ahead of you, you’ll have more time to make your move, so be sure you have a good line of sight before committing to pass.
Step 4: Indicate. As simple as this may sound, many people don’t. By using your right indicator shortly before passing and leaving it on for the entire manoeuvre, you not only make the car you’re passing aware of your intentions, but too the car behind – just in case they were also about to pass you.
Note: If you’re concerned as to your own visibility to others, it is advisable to travel with your low beam lights on. At night, select high beam once you’ve cleared the car in front (assuming there is no one ahead of them).
Step 5: Allow for error. If you have left the three second gap we spoke of, you’ll find you have enough time to move to the centre of the road for a good look at what’s coming before you commit to the manoeuvre. The best thing about this gap is that should something take you by surprise, you’ll have enough time to move back to your lane. Remember to use your mirror should you need to slip back in to your lane in case the car behind has also decided to pass.
Step 6: Change Lanes and Accelerate. By now, you should have the car set up to make your pass. As you move completely in to the right lane accelerate as hard as you can – the less time spent on the wrong side of the road the better. Stay central in the lane, make sure you pass with sufficient room to the slower car but by the same token don’t get to close to the shoulder – contact with either can have dire consequences.
Note One: If you are being passed at this juncture it is courteous to slow down a little to assist the passing driver to make a safer manoeuvre.
Note Two: If there is more than one vehicle in front of you, it is often best to overtake multiple vehicles in one pass, than to risk it again later. Whilst this is recommended be sure you have enough room and enough pace to do so – constantly reassess the manoeuvre as you’re making it.
Step 7: Rejoin your lane. To get back in to your lane, lift off the throttle slightly and indicate left. Remember you’ll have some pace on and backing off the acceleration will assist your vehicle’s steering. Once you are safely in the left lane again, cancel your indicator and resume a safe speed.
Step 8: You’re done. Easy wasn’t it, and safe. Don’t forget to be courteous, wave a little thanks if you can and don’t slow down to frustrate the car you’ve just passed. A little patience and courtesy can make the holiday road trip safer for everyone.
As an overtaking manoeuvre is not something most of us are familiar with everyday, it’s best to hold back if you’re in anyway unsure. Most ‘A’ and ‘B’ posted roads offer overtaking lanes every so often, so utilise these if you don’t feel comfortable doing otherwise.
Stay safe on the roads and enjoy your well earned break - we'll be back with more in the New Year.