Passing the vehicle in front you is one of those things we do often but don't give much thought. Once the decision to pass a vehicle in an urban environment realize and remember that you and your car are going to be spending a good deal of time in the wrong lane. To give you an idea of how much time and distance, if you are traveling at 50 mph and passing someone going 40 mph, you will need about 10 seconds and 736 feet to safely complete the pass.

Here are some basic points you can use to help in the decision making process.

  1. Is the car you are about to pass aware of your presence?

    Sometimes it appears obvious that it is, but even though your lights are flashing, your siren is on, don't assume the car in front of you is aware of your presence, and that the driver will react rationally. As most of the readers have experienced there are some people that panic at the sight of a police vehicle approaching from the rear with lights and siren.

  2. Are there side roads ahead that may hide a car about to turn into your path?
  3. Even if you can't see them, assume they're there.

  4. How long is all this going to take?

    Do you have enough time to pass and get back in your lane? Estimating whether or not the pass is safe requires quick thinking. You haven't got much time. Your best friend here is your own good sense and your experience as a good police driver.

  5. Check your mirrors before you pass; it's just good sense to check your mirrors before you make any move with your car.

There are some critical issues when passing.

  1. The speed of the vehicle you are about to pass
  2. The speed of your vehicle

    Looking at A and B, the critical issue is the difference in speed between your vehicle and the vehicle you're passing. As an example if you are traveling 60 mph and the vehicle you are passing is at 40 mph you will be in the opposite lane for 450 feet and about 5.3 seconds. Keep your speed at 60 mph and change the speed of the vehicle you're passing to 30 mph you will be in the opposite lane for 300 feet and 3.5 seconds. The bigger the differential between vehicles the less distance and time you will be in the wrong lane. Keep in mind that a speed differential of 10 mph between the vehicle being passed and the passing vehicle creates a significant difference in the amount of time your vehicle is in the opposite lane.

  3. When do you pull out to pass?

    Start to pass from a safe following distance. Do not speed up directly behind a vehicle and then turn out suddenly just before you get to it. The closer you are to the vehicle in front of you the more you will have to move the steering wheel to driver around them. Always keep in mind the basic laws of physics "Combing high speeds with a lot of steering can be harmful to your health"

    But how far ahead is far enough? There are so many variables that it is hard to come up with absolute numbers. The distance to pull out depends on your own speed, on the speed of the vehicle you are passing, and on the lengths of the vehicles involved.

    Also the closer you are to the vehicle in front of you the harder it is to see around them. You cannot pass safely unless you can see far enough ahead to be sure that you can get back in line before you meet any traffic coming from the opposite direction.

    At this point we need to talk about SUV's; Due to there high center of gravity you need to leave a lot of room between you and the car you are about to pass. You must start your pass sooner than you would if you were not in an SUV. The reason for this is the notice you find over the visor of most SUV's "Avoid turning the wheel sharply" If you pull up to close to the vehicle in front of you, that's exactly what you will have to do. Solution, in an SUV you need to leave yourself a lot of room if you are going to attempt a pass

  4. When do you pull in once you have completed the pass?

    As you go by another vehicle, be sure there is plenty of distance between the right side of your vehicle and the left side of the other vehicle.

    You have not finished passing until you get back onto your own side of the road or in the lane where you belong, leaving the vehicle you have just passed at a safe following distance behind you.

    For example, if the vehicle you are passing is traveling at 30 mph, and you are traveling 60 mph leave 60 feet clear before returning to your own side of the road (20 feet for every 10 mph of speed differential).

    A good rule of thumb is that you can usually be sure it is safe to return to the right side of the road when you can see the vehicle you have passed in your rearview mirror.

The above are guidelines but when it comes to passing, there are some nevers.

  • Never pass on curves.
  • Never pass at intersections.
  • Never pass when crossing railroad tracks.
  • Never pass at night when you can't see far ahead of you.