Can you exceed the speed limit when overtaking? Is it okay to break the speed limit if it would be dangerous not to? This article will explain the rules on overtaking safely as well as when not to attempt to overtake.

How Do You Define Overtaking?

Overtaking is passing another road user (another vehicle, cyclist, or horse etc) that is travelling in the same direction as you.

While overtaking is legal, there are rules about how and when it is safe to overtake; a key takeaway should be to only attempt to overtake when it is safe and legal to do so.

The Penalty For Speeding

If caught speeding while overtaking, police can hit you with a minimum £100 fine and three points on your licence.

But depending on your speed, and the type of road you are driving on, you could be given a larger fine and in some case, be banned from driving.

Read the government advice on speeding penalties.

Are You Allowed To Speed To Overtake?

It's a widely-held belief with many UK drivers that you are able to break the speed limit in order to overtake another vehicle – but this is a common misconception.

The Highway Code: the speed limit is the “absolute maximum and does not mean it is safe to drive at the speed irrespective of conditions”.

Choosing to exceed the speed limit for any reason is dangerous as well as illegal. Therefore, no matter what you may assume, you should not be exceeding the speed limit, even when overtaking.

Can You Overtake On A Single-Lane Road?

Overtaking on a single-lane road is illegal if there are signs or road markings prohibiting it, or if you do so in an unsafe or uncontrolled way. However, it is inevitable that you will eventually need to overtake a slower vehicle (such as a bicycle or a tractor, for example), and if you do so safely, then it is acceptable to do so.

When Should You Not Overtake?

You should not overtake in these circumstances:

  • If there are poor weather conditions, such as rain or fog, where you are unable to safely see the road
  • If you would have to cross or straddle double white lines with a solid line nearest to you
  • If you would have to enter an area designed to divide traffic that is surrounded by a solid white line
  • When you don’t have clear visibility of the road
  • If you would have to enter a lane reserved for buses, trams or cyclists during operational hours
  • If you are approaching a potential hazard
  • If the vehicle in front of you is indicating right

How To Overtake A Horse Rider

The guidance for overtaking a horse rider is:

  • Overtake at a slow pace, without any sudden bursts of speed
  • Give them as much room as you safely can, ideally more than you would a car
  • Turn down the volume on your radio
  • Do not rev your engine
  • Do not honk your horn
  • Keep an eye out for signals from the rider to slow down or stop

Horses can be easily spooked, so it’s important that you take extra care when overtaking.

How To Overtake A Cyclist

In terms of overtaking a cyclist, similar rules to the above apply but with emphasis on leaving as much room as safely as you can, clearly indicating your movements, and not making any rapid, sudden manoeuvres.

Rules To Follow To Overtake Safely

If you ever want to overtake someone, you should consider these five factors:

  1. Do you need to overtake? You may feel frustrated being stuck behind someone driving slowly, but is it worth the risk? How much time will you actually save?
  2. Check for any surrounding signals: Are there any hazards ahead such as pedestrian crossings or a junction? Are there any signs telling you not to overtake? Are you coming up to a bend that is obscuring your vision?
  3. Is there enough space to overtake? You don’t just need enough space to speed up to overtake, but also space to pass the car in front and cross back over in front without causing them to slow down.
  4. Continuously check the road and your mirrors: If there’s an unexpected hazard, you’ll need to drop back quickly and safely.
  5. Don’t cut up the driver you are overtaking: Don’t start to pull back across into your lane until you can see the entire overtaken car in your central rear-view mirror.

The Importance Of Road Safety

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is keen to set aside myths that speeding is acceptable when overtaking another vehicle.

“The common-sense message is do not overtake unless you are sure you can complete the manoeuvre safely and without causing risk or inconvenience to another road user,” warns a RoSPA spokesman.