How to Pass Safely

Posted on by Defensive Driving | in Defensive Driving Online

The first time I drove in a foreign country was without a doubt one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. First, I was in a rental car with standard transmission and without power steering. I’d never driven a car without power steering and hadn’t driven standard in years. Second, I was driving on the “wrong” side of the road for the first time, and the gearshift was on the “wrong” side as well!

The worst part of this whole misadventure, however, was that I had to drive to a rural town north of the city I was living in. The road I was travelling on was a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulder, populated entirely by vehicles that were either very old and slow pickup trucks overflowing with people or German sports cars with agitated and anxious drivers. (I swear that, on that day, these were the only two kinds of cars on the road.)

For the entire two-hour drive, I clutched the wheel in a near panic, convinced that I was either about to witness a head-on collision, German sports car making a bad pass, or participate in one as I nervously tried to pass a slow pickup. My heart got a better workout during that drive than it does during a five-mile run.

In honor of this terror, I’d like to share a few tips with my companions on the road that day and with everyone else who may one day find themselves driving a crappy car on a rural road in a strange country (or driving on any two-lane highway, for that matter.)

First, pass only as a last resort. Passing another car on a two-lane highway is tricky, as it’s difficult to gauge relative speeds properly. Remember those train problems you had to do in Algebra? Those were terrible. I usually got them wrong. Passing is a real-world equivalent of those problems, and a head-on collision is much, much worse than a bad math grade.

Next, make sure that you are in a location suitable for passing. This means that the road should be straight and flat, so that you can see a ways ahead of you. For the same reason, you don’t want to pass in low visibility weather.

After that, make sure that your pass will be legal. Only pass when there is a dotted yellow line on your side of the road. Never cross a solid yellow line to make a pass. Also remember that you have to pass on the left. Right hand passes, i.e. when you pass on the shoulder of the road, are only permissible when the car ahead of you is turning left.

Once these basic conditions are in place, you can begin contemplating your pass. Make sure that you are far enough behind the car ahead of you that you can see the other side of the road clearly. Now, check to make sure that there are no cars approaching in the opposite direction.
This is the really tricky part. Remember that, because you are also moving, it is difficult to judge the speed of approaching cars. It’s also difficult to judge how long it will take you to pass the car in front of you. If the approaching car doesn’t appear to be moving, then you should have enough time. If the approaching car does look like it’s moving, don’t make the pass! Be patient.

Next, signal that you’re going to pass by using your blinker to alert cars behind you and tooting your horn (or flashing your lights at night) to warn the car you are passing. When all is clear, pull out and make your pass.

If a sudden obstacle (like an animal or falling tree) or an approaching car suddenly appears, hit your brakes and return to the right hand lane. Don’t try to outrun the oncoming car! You won’t win much in this game, and you risk losing a lot.

To wrap up our discussion for the day, I’d like to introduce a new blog feature:

Don’t Be That Guy: Road Courtesy Tips

If someone is trying to pass you, don’t speed up to frustrate his or her attempt! This is both dangerous and annoying. Don’t be that guy; instead, pull over to the right side of the lane to give the passing car more space and, if possible, slow down a bit to make the other driver’s life easier.
To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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