A LETHAL GAME OF CAT & MOUSE: Overtaking Safely

Driven recently discussed intersections and the dangers they pose. This month, ASHREF ISMAIL looks at another danger, this time in the form of overtaking. Combined, these two elements account for more than 60% of road fatalities, not just locally, but globally.

According to the letter of the law, overtaking or ‘passing,’ as it is often called, is acceptable when and where it is safe to do so. The ‘where’ part would generally refer to the environmental considerations; where visibility allows for at least a kilometre or more and where speeds allow for safe passing.

This is generally indicated by the relevant road markings, which are depicted by broken lines. In the absence of any road markings, overtaking is prohibited unless permitted by a regulatory road traffic sign. Failure to comply with such a warning can be extremely dangerous and may lead to prosecution.

The ‘when’ issue is slightly more open to interpretation, as it leaves the decision-making factors at the discretion of the driver. Given South Africa’s appalling road safety record, it is not uncommon to find motorists overtaking dangerously, not just over solid white lines, but also in the face of oncoming traffic.

It is often said that the propensity for risk-taking behaviour amongst South African drivers is directly linked to the so-called ‘risk-benefit perception ratio’. This means that the perception of gaining in time (benefit) far outweighs the potential for risk (possibly getting involved in a crash or getting a traffic fine).

In advanced, defensive driving, we implement the ‘LSW Rule’ for overtaking, which represents Legal, Safe, and Worthwhile. It works as follows:

– When planning to overtake a slow-moving vehicle, ensure that you leave a sufficient gap between your car and the one that you are following. You should be able to see oncoming traffic at all times on the right-hand side and possible bicycles or pedestrians on the left. By driving too close to the vehicle you wish to overtake, your braking distance is compromised combined with a reduced angle of visibility.

– Check to see if it is legal to overtake. This is easily determined by the relevant road traffic sign or road marking.

– Just because it is legal to overtake does not mean that it is safe to do so. Observe carefully. Also, do not forget to check your interior and exterior, driver-side mirror plus the blind spot to the right to see if there are any vehicles already overtaking.

– The next question to ask yourself is: ‘Is it worth it?’ This is what differentiates poor drivers from mature, advanced drivers. Sometimes, overtaking does not save you much time, ultimately improving your position by just a few car lengths.

Overtaking Safety

– If you decide overtaking is safe and necessary, then signal your intention and select the correct gear to make sure that you build up sufficient power and momentum to pass the slower vehicle. Remember, you cannot also overtake a vehicle if the vehicle in front of you has already commenced overtaking.

– Pass the vehicle as quickly as possible, reducing your time on the wrong side of the road. Check your interior mirror, followed by your exterior mirror to the left and signal your intention to re-enter the lane when it is safe to do so. This means that you have provided a sufficient gap to the overtaken vehicle.

This all might sound a lot like common sense, but frequently common sense is not so common during the act of driving. Our appalling accident record confirms this since we are losing an average of 45 people every day thanks to road accidents. So, be safe out there and think LSW before overtaking.



Most Popular