Unlawful Overtaking and Passing FAQ

If you're in America, you probably do quite a bit of driving. It's not uncommon for Americans to drive an hour or even more each day and each way to our jobs. Most states allow citizens to drive by themselves by the time they reach age 16. Of course, you have to have a driver's license.

When it comes to driving and traffic behavior, overtaking refers to someone driving a vehicle who decides to "overtake" or pass another vehicle so they can get to their destination more quickly.

Legal overtaking

There are two types of overtaking. One kind is the legal kind. On a two-lane road, it means you pass to the left of the vehicle you overtake, unless the vehicle is preparing to make a left turn. You should only pass in a legal passing zone, where there's a dashed center line or a solid line paired with a dashed line, indicating that passing is only legal for traffic adjacent to the broken line.

A solid double yellow line in both directions means that you can't pass in either direction. On an open road with four or more lanes, you can pass to the left or right, but only if you can do it safely.

Unlawful overtaking and passing

The other kind of overtaking often means passing on the right. It's much more dangerous not to mention often illegal. In almost all states, it's against the law to pass on the right on a highway except in certain circumstances.

Vermont is an exception. In Vermont, on a highway you can pass across the double yellow line when there's no traffic on the opposite side of the road. But you must pass quickly and then return to your side. Most states ban crossing on a double yellow line except when you're turning or pedestrians, bikes or another road obstruction means it's necessary.

If you're driving down the highway and there's a solid yellow line on your side of the highway, it's against the law to overtake the vehicle in front of you. There are many places where you'll find the yellow line. You might find the yellow line on a curvy highway, at the bottom of a hill, at an intersection, and anywhere there's a reduced speed limit like in front of a school or hospital and when approaching a stop light or stop sign.

Overtaking on the right is dangerous. In several states, overtaking is specifically named as an act of aggressive driving. If you're convicted of this act, you might be rewarded with higher insurance premiums, especially if you're young, and you could lose your license.

Avoiding the temptation

Unlawful overtaking and passing can be a temptation. This is especially true if you're late for work or if you encounter a slow-moving farm vehicle or a bus. But remember that overtaking is almost always illegal and dangerous.

The best solution is to exercise some preventive action. For example, if you know a road between you and work is under construction, make allowance for that and leave earlier for work.

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