/ Motoring

Are we overlooking the risks of overtaking?

Nearly half of us overtake at speed on rural roads, according to a new study. But are we making sound judgements about when it’s safe to overtake – and is reducing speed limits on rural roads the answer?

Road safety group Brake found 47% of people overtake at speed on rural roads. While this figure didn’t shock me beyond expectation, hearing that one in eight drivers overtake when they can’t see what’s coming in the opposite direction certainly did.

At one time or another, each one of us has had that combined feeling of panic and fear when a car has misjudged an overtake and is heading towards you on your side of the road, only to swerve back across onto the correct side at the last second.

And most of the time that is exactly what it is – a misjudgement – either of the speed of the vehicle in front, the speed of the oncoming car, or the length of the vehicle being overtaken.

But if one in eight motorists openly admits they’re willing to overtake another vehicle when they have no idea what could be coming the other way, it can’t really be considered a misjudgement. Surely that’s an act of recklessness that needs to be ironed out of our driving attitude?

Road safety in numbers

Here are some figures that might make some drivers think twice before pulling out to overtake without a clear view ahead:

  • In Britain in 2009, 749 deaths occurred on single carriageway roads with a speed limit of 60mph, accounting for a third of the total road deaths.
  • According to police reports from the scenes, almost a third of deaths are due to exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for the conditions.
  • Research by the Department for Transport (DfT) found the risk of motorists dying from a head-on collision involving two cars both travelling at 60mph is 90%. And that figure drops to just 65% if both are doing 50mph.

Should we have slower speed limits on rural roads?

As a result of this survey, Brake wants the speed limit reduced on rural roads, making limits more relative to the accident rates on that section of carriageway.

I’d argue that our rural roads are part of what makes driving in this country an enjoyable experience – far more so than sitting on motorways. In adequate conditions and with a clear run, I see no reason why 60mph isn’t acceptable in most rural cases.

And with such a high number of rural roads in the UK, I find it difficult to see how driving behaviour and speed will be enforced, especially with the current situation with speed camera operation at the moment.

For me, overtaking is an act of responsibility to yourself and other road users, so I’d rather see education outweighing enforcement.


I see this problem almost daily – I work at the end of a long – hedge lined – winding country lane – only wide enough to pass at certain points – the number of crashes due lack of driving skill is astonishing

The driving skills are plummeting – the recklessness shown astounding.

I am not surprised – most on here consider speed control unnecessary according to attitudes to speed cameras and hindering the police in catching drivers – To me careless reckless and irresponsible driving.

I can see exactly why 60 mph is not not acceptable on country roads – two cars approaching at 60 mph invites a crash at 120 mph – killing occupants – If you don’t believe me – wait with me while I call ambulance and police after the next one. The average driver does not have the skill or inclination to gauge distances widths and speeds at 60 mph – they think they are invulnerable – and they are not!

It would be fine IF the AVERAGE driver could drive at speed – They can’t!!!

So do we just keep reducing the speed limit as standards dwindle? Surely it’s better to train people to a higher degree. Overtaking didn’t come into my car driving test (or motorway driving or night driving for that matter) but it did on my motorcycle one. Maybe the car test should be as strenuous and thorough as the motorcycle one.

Sadly, I am not surprised to hear that one in eight drivers overtake when they can’t see what’s coming. It is something I regularly see on the major single carriageway A roads in Scotland. All seem to have magic crystal balls fitted in their vehicles.
Altering the speed limits will not change this idiotic driving as most of those undertaking these stupid life threatening manoeuvres are travelling well in excess of the 60mph speed limit anyway and are unlikely to adhere to a lower limit.

Linda says:
3 February 2011

Would a new rule limiting drivers to a low speed until so many years after passing their driving test and then being called for a more advanced course on driving at higher speeds be of any help?

I have family in Devon and regularly go down to visit. I can’t believe that some of those windy road with high hedges have a 60mph limit – you can’t see past the next corner most of the time. I hate driving in the lanes – would rather be driving in busy London! But maybe that’s just being comfortable with what I’m used to.

pickle says:
4 February 2011

It seems to me to a problem of inexperienced drivers being let loose on our roads. Not only narrow country lanes but road surfaces covered in wet earth or manure are a hazard. drivers need to be taught patience – it’s better to hold back safely and wait for a clear opportunity to overtake.
Even on wide clear roads overtaking can be dangerous – we have all seen a driver emerging from a side road – just when we did not expect it.
What is to be done? Perhaps if the subject were to come up more often in newspapers and magazines even television it might ram the point home.

Shane says:
5 August 2011

In all fairness, as a young driver over the time I have been driving which is over half a year I have only ever experienced the experienced drivers making the mistakes. Not bothering to look to their right at roundabouts, and pulling out without looking. Experienced drivers are also the most ignorant on the road, especially to younger drivers. And generally I have also found that younger drivers tend to drive better. Why does it take so long for experienced drivers to decide whether they can go at a roundabout? Especially when it is clear and they are slowing right down to 5 mph? They don’t need to. I would have thought with all their experience they would make much quicker decisions. A good driver will slow down according to the situation at a roundabout to avoid having to stop. I’m not saying all experienced drivers are like this but a lot are.

Shane – Exactly how do you know that the driver you see is an experienced driver??

A long white beard? Old Car? ….. Sadly I suggest the reason why the insurance premiums are so high for young inexperienced drivers is because they are so impatient and cause crashes due to their impatience and inexperience.

Shane says:
27 August 2011

Yeah I suppose so Richard. I see your point about the knowing whether they are experienced. I would say that by them having a really nice car like an audi or bmw would say they have a few years experience. But I suppose if they happen to be rich they could afford that even if they were new drivers. Generally I’m very calm at the wheel when driving and I stick to the speed limits. I just hate it when people go 30 in a 40 zone which is then followed by a 30 mph road and they go 35 or faster.

paul says:
4 February 2011

I think that one of the skills of driving is to drive at the appropriate speed for the conditions. Sometimes this is above the legal limit, sometimes it is below.

I agree that driving on single carriageway roads is one of the few motoring pleasures left to us. It is obvious that many drivers do not have the skill or judgement to carry out overtaking at speed. Indeed it is frightening at the lack of judgement/anticipation that many drivers show even on urban roads and at much lower speeds. I take this to show that the driving test is not rigorous enough for todays conditions and that the standard of instruction is failing as well.

If we are to reduce speed limits to the point where nobody can be injured in a collision then we may as well bring back the Red Flag Act!

GERRY says:
4 February 2011

I live in a rural area, drive a car, ride a motor scooter and cycle on a fast race bike – I cruise at 20-mph so no slouch !

I am amazed at the number of motor vehicles that overtake me on bends when they clearly can’t tell if something is coming towards them.

I am not a moaning cyclist as I think that most drivers are courteous and for my part if a vehicle has held back behind me, I always wave to say thanks.

As regards speed on any road, last year someone lost control on a B road, drifted across and hit me head on. we were probably both doing about 45 mph. My vehicle spun round, went up and down the embankment, backwards down the road, back wheels came off. I had glass in my mouth, ears, scalp, inside my shoes and trousers.

I tell you this because I think that those who have not experiences and accident are really unaware of the effects of the impact.

Most people only learn by practice, so tongue in cheek, I wonder whether having a controlled accident should be part of the driving test ?

I am back on four and two wheels however am a lot more cautious about vehicles overtaking me or coming towards me at speed.

Finally,an advanced police driver told me they are trained to expect a Pink Elephant to be around every corner, in other words expect the unexpected and have an escape plan.

Drive at the speed limit and they will do anything to get past!! Undertaking, overtaking it does not matter, there is no one to catch them. And if they don’t do that they sit on your tailgate like they want to join the RED ARROWS(!) and especially at night when its wet the Chelsea tractors illuminate you with their over bright lights.

James says:
11 February 2011

How can people undertake you if you’re in the correct lane?

Shane says:
5 August 2011

They undertake you on the dual carriageway, motorway. I have experienced this.

Geoff Sheddick says:
4 February 2011

I don’t believe that Speed Limits alone will ever be effective until the Driving Test requires drivers to demonstrate an understanding of the significance of speed, plus an ability to judge speed and to overtake safely.
In any field, if people have no understanding of the reasons why rules exist, they are much less likely to respect and observe those rules.
I believe that improving education almost invariably offers the most cost effective, long term, real solution to many behavioural problems; unfortunately politicians usually prefer least cost, short term, headline grabbing actions that they can claim as immediate “solutions”.
However, since driving instruction is paid for by the individual and not by the state, and since the number of learner drivers old enough to have the Vote is probably a very small proportion of all voters, I think that any competent politician [ah, I just seen a flaw in my argument…] ought be able to construct a vote winning policy out of making the driving test far more comprehensive, on the basis that better understanding will result in less cost to the state as a result of fewer accidents and lower enforcement costs.

Most drivers fail to read the road properly when overtaking. They don’t realise what the warning signs mean on the approach to hazards. They don’t realise the significance of warning signs approaching junctions or the reason the gaps change in the white lines or why the length of white lines change on the approach to a hazard and they fail to notice or anticipate the potential moves of the car in front when they approach shops, petrol stations, car parks, houses, schools etc.
People turning left out of junctions often only look right and end up facing head on into a driver already overtaking in a dangerous place.
A driver who can read the road properly will only overtake or drive fast when its safe, its the people who mistakenly think they’re a good driver that leave the trained (and practiced) advanced drivers cringing at some of the moves they witness.
Maybe a licence for life should be altered to a licence that needs a 1 hour check test every 2-3 years, extended to 5 years or more if they pass an advanced driving test, just to make sure the driver has still got the skills to drive a vehicle safely and to test standards.
As for the costs, this should be paid by the driver, with the cost of motoring, fuel, insurance being very expensive, even to run a banger, the cost of a test shouldn’t be a burden and if it was the same as a standard driving test (£62) it only works out the cost of a full tank. They’d save more than this in fuel over the same period by driving better and if an advanced driver there could be further savings in insurance costs.

I share the concern of other contributors about the seriousness of the problem. However, I do not see it as caused by young or inexperienced drivers. Those who drive dangerously around the lanes of Derbyshire (where I live) seem to be mature drivers. I also do not see the solution as one of education, as Rob Hull writes. It seems to me that drivers are intellectually quite aware of the dangers, but I presume that experience tells them they can get away with it just about all the time – both in terms of injury or death to themselves and others and in terms of breaking driving laws. And I guess they are quite correct.

I am sorry – It has virtually nothing to do with experience – driving test – or age – It is to do with attitude and stupidity

Experienced drivers are just as likely to break the law – they just don’t care about others – and too often think they are too experienced to have problems – until they crash.

Inexperienced drivers are just as likely to break the law – they just don’t know enough to care about others – and too often cannot think ahead – until they crash.

The Driving Test only states that at the time of the test you were knowledgeable enough to pass the test – NOT that you would follow the highway code unsupervised.ever more or anticipate all conditions – no test will do so – unless say a video of your driving was made for a year after the test and analysed – but even this will not stop the truly idiotic simply using another car to “boy race”.a term to describe a type of driving and not age related.

The only real method that MAY work is to make all prospective drivers to spend a year on “rescue services” on roads – removing dead and seriously injured bodies from wreckage – picking up pieces of bodies – finding out the hard way that a crash at 20 mph DOES allow people to survive – whereas 60 mph causes them to be mangled to death. One reason police make excellent advanced drivers is BECAUSE so many actually see the effects of crashes first hand. From experience I know actually picking up pieces physically is a far more lasting affect than watching a simulation. It could be the reason why I haven’t had a crash or conviction in 64 years of driving..

Age – it is not a coincidence that the front line armed forces are young – it is because they as group do not look to the future.- not a good attitude for overtaking – I can only say that my experience showed that as I became older – my reluctance to engage in frontline activities became insurmountable.
But any analysis of crashes shows that there are two peaks – the young and the old driver.. But that only highlights the ones that ACTUALLY crash – not the ones causing crashes – and from my daily journeys there are a great many of those the ones on the brink of crashes,

It would also help tremendously if mobile phones were inoperative inside a car – it would remove at least one so-called “distraction”. I find it totally inexplicable that so many on here state “that speed cameras are distractions” – rubbish – it shows that the person being distracted is a very poor driver. A competent driver is one that is permanently aware of conditions inside and outside of the car at all times..

I repeat a recent incident – a car driver completely ignored all the clear road signs not to turn into a one way country road – stupidly and blindingly obeyed his sat nav and crashed into an oncoming car – killing his daughter. That is sheer stupidity.

A good driver is also one that CAN anticipate – not one that thinks they can.

Shane says:
5 August 2011

Wow!!! haven’t had a crash in 64 years of driving?! Well done! I have been driving just over half a year and know many people around my age who have had a crash of some sort already. I have the target of never crashing, ever! and I hope I live up to it. In order to do this I drive sensibly and even before my test have always said i would drive carefully. I went in my friend’s car once and we had a scary experience, He took the corner too fast and the car started snaking, he drives way too fast anyway and it scared me. I did not like this and it was my ambition to always make my passengers feel comfortable in the car. I know what it is like to be scared because your’e not the one in control of the car. Once again congratualtions on an amazing achievement… I look up to you with all due respect.

Speed is the only thing that the police can prove
Just like carbon dioxide emissions.

ie. There are many other factors which influence the outcome more than what they can prove easily, meaning people do not pay any attention to any of the other symptoms.

Careless/bad driving is the cause of these overtaking issues and if we focussed less on trying to ostracise all speeding drivers, people might take a bit more notice of their poor driving skills, and in many cases, poor eyesight.

Hate to point uot there are many things the police can prove – from drinking to turning the wrong way around a roundabout. Forensic examination of a crash site can prove in a court of law that certain=n things happen. one way or the other. It is also why many police vehicles have passengers – to corroborate the eyewitness account of the arresting officer.

I’m sorry I am not convinced “going easy” on speeding drivers will do anything at all – except maybe convince them and all other motoring offence offenders that they can ignore ALL misdemeanours.

Adam says:
1 April 2011

Arghh! Another ill informed PC campaign by Brake!

We need to start trusting motorists again – all these speed limits, road signs, cameras, traffic lights and stupid junctions are stopping drivers from concentrating.

Half the drivers haven’t got a clue what’s going on around them, aren’t concentrating and hesitate at every possible opportunity. It’s these people that are causing the accidents.Slowing drivers down even more will only lead to exacerbate the problems.

The Oxfordshire “experiment” with speed cameras showed that many drivers can’t be trusted. Basically as I said on 8th Feb 2011

Frankly if “all these speed limits, road signs, cameras, traffic lights and stupid junctions are stopping drivers from concentrating” they shouldn’t be driving in the first place. They are either bad or incompetent.

Sadly Oxfordshire showed conclusively that slowing drivers down saved lives and stopped accidents.

Drivers that haven’t a clue should not be on the roads – just like those drivers without insurance and MOTs for their cars’ There are no excuses..

Shane says:
5 August 2011

It is easy to see why younger people and even some older people do not have insurance these days as it is a total con, however, it is not acceptable. My insurance is £1500 on a saxo… sound a lot to you?? It really isn’t when you consider one of my friends has a Vauxhall Corsa 1.0l and his insurance is £3900 a year!