/ 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?



That sounds like a great plan in theory, however enforcing limitations on people’s driving would be quite difficult I would imagine. Even if you restricted the cars new drivers could own to small capacity, low power models, some would still drive them to the limit.

More advanced driving courses sound more promising to me. Or what about showing new drivers the hard truths about road deaths? Unless an impact is made on new drivers immediately, bad habits will occur early.


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.