When we need to get somewhere, there is nothing more frustrating than being stuck behind a slower car ahead on the highway! Luckily, the transportation engineers who designed our roads were annoyed by that as well, so they have given us some options to get around those slow vehicles where the traffic volume, mix of vehicles, and geography allow. However, it’s important to take care when passing vehicles, as we far too frequently find that passing recklessly can lead to collisions.

Before transportation engineers plan out where the solid and dashed yellow lines should be on roads, they do some calculations to make sure that a driver can see far enough up the road to safely pass a slow vehicle by entering the opposing lane and accelerating. But even when the dashed line is in your favour to pass another vehicle, it’s important to remember that these lines were not painted to show where it was safe to pass a convoy of transport trucks that are travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit! As a rule of thumb, if the vehicle in front of you is already going above the speed limit, it is safer to just stay behind them.

Passing by crossing the yellow line (dashed or solid) is particularly hazardous because if you do get into a collision, you’re likely going to be striking another vehicle head-on. Head-on collisions are so dangerous because if you’re travelling at 80 km/h, and hit another car travelling at 80 km/h in the opposite direction, the damage is similarly severe to what it would be if you hit a stationary car while travelling at 160 km/h! Collisions at these speeds often result in serious injuries or even fatalities, a sobering reminder of the need to to be cautious during passing.

Even when you don’t need to cross a yellow line to pass, such as on a multi-lane road or highway, it’s important to think about what the other drivers around you can see and would expect before you pass. Drivers have good vision in front of them, but on both sides of a vehicle there are blind spots between what you can see from looking over your shoulder and the extended visibility offered by the side and rear view mirrors. Zig-zagging wildly through traffic will surely land you in someone else’s blind spot, which becomes hazardous when that other driver decides to make a lane change. Even if you did happen to be visible to the other driver in their mirrors, driver behavior research shows that a driver’s left and right side mirror eye glances are typically very short in duration, meaning that the other driver may not be able to discern that you are attempting to pass, especially at a much higher speed.

Collisions between vehicles travelling in the same direction aren’t typically as severe as the head-on collisions discussed above, because when vehicles are going the same direction, the difference in their speeds is smaller. However, that doesn’t necessarily make these types of collisions benign; a glancing sideswipe impact can still lead to severe multi-vehicle collisions if one or both of the involved drivers loses control and unintentionally strikes other vehicle(s) on the highway.

Now I’m not trying to scare people off from passing slow vehicles on the highway; passing is done safely every day by drivers who follow the rules of the road and use common sense. To mitigate your chances of getting into (or causing!) a collision, you need to check your blind spots, watch for other drivers, and make sure the conditions and roadway are safe before you start your pass. Last but not least, always remember that when in doubt, it’s better to get where you’re going a little late than to get into a collision and never get there at all!

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