Voices

Legal country road overtaking is a safety problem

What’s safe and what’s legal are two different things, especially if you follow the rules for country overtaking.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I described something called the Australian Overtake – you know, where you attempt to overtake a car on the freeway and it takes forever as you’re doing 99.9km/h and they’re doing 99.1. That really struck a chord with people, and sparked other writers to vent about keeping left on freeways.

But confected outrage doesn’t help win the argument. Cold hard logic does, so let’s see why legal overtaking often isn’t safe.

The law says you must not exceed the speed limit when overtaking. It also sets a speed limit for each road. So let’s set the scene; we have a country road with a limit of 100km/h, along which there is a car travelling at 90km/h. We are travelling at 100km/h, and eventually catch the car in front.

The good advice from the government is to maintain a 3-second gap to the car in front. We’ll cut that gap to 2 seconds as we’re going to overtake.  At 90km/h we travel 25 metres per second, so a 2-second gap see us 56m behind the car in front. Once past, we won’t pull in till we’re ahead – let’s say another two seconds, about another 56m. The length of the car is 5m, so our total overtake distance is 56 + 5 + 56m = 117m.

So we begin to overtake, doing 100km/h to the other car’s 90km/h. That’s a 10km/h speed difference, and we need to cover 117m. A speed of 10km/h is 2.8 metres a second (m/s), so to find the time taken to overtake it is:

117m / 2.8m/s = 42 seconds. During that time you’ll cover 1.2km.

And that’s at 10km/h. If the car in front does 95km/h and you do 100km/h to overtake, that’s 84 seconds, or 1 minute 24 seconds to overtake, during which you’ll cover 2.3km.

I’ve made some simplifications in the calculations, but they don’t change the central point – how do you feel about being on the wrong side of the road for over a full minute when overtaking?

Don’t believe me? Next time you’re on the freeway, start from 2 seconds behind someone, zero your trip meter, start counting the seconds, and stop when you’re 2 seconds ahead. It’s a surprisingly long time and distance. And that’s just for a car. A B-double truck is 25m long for example, so that’s about another 7 seconds on the wrong side of the road at 10km/h.

Now what about overtaking lanes? Two problems. First, they aren’t always available. Second, they tend to be 1km long, and as we’ve just proved, there’s not enough distance to get by a car doing 90 if you’re doing 100km/h and stick to the official guidance.

You could squeeze it a bit and start the manouvre later or cut in earlier – say cut it down to 1 second before and after-  but that doesn’t solve the other problem which is that if a car is doing 90km/h on a moderately busy country road, it won’t be long before it has a tail of cars behind it, and then they all try to use the same overtaking lane.

Now some would say just wait for the right chance to get by. But the maths says unless your route involves an international-class aircraft runway then you won’t have the space to make the overtake.  And even if there was a 1.2km space to overtake, you can’t easily see that far down the road so you need to start the overtake and just hope it works out. Really not seeing how that’s safe. And if there’s a car coming the other way, then it’d need to be at least 2.5km away when you start the overtake..you’ll need a long stretch of road and good eyes to see that far ahead.

097a1632

What about simply waiting and not overtaking? That would be a favourite solution of people that don’t drive long distances in the country, but there’s three problems; fatigue, traffic jams and frustration. Fatigue first; last week I drove 550km to Mildura, and if I had to drop 10km/h off the speed my travel time would have increased from a bit over 6 hours to 7 hours, including stops. If it was 80km/h, then that’d be another 1.4 hours compared to the normal time.

How is spending more time being bored on an empty road safe when we all know fatigue is a problem? It’s not like driving well under the limit is some of sort de-stress effect.

Second, traffic jams. We’ve got our 90km/h car bimbling along, and behind it we now have 10 other cars traveling at 90. The lead car approaches a 60km/h zone and slows down to 60. It does that maybe 300m out from the 60km/h sign. That means the car behind it has to brake about 350m out from the sign. The car behind that one about 400m. Typically, each driver will brake that little bit harder than the car in front so it’s both a distance and speed problem. You get enough cars, and the entire traffic flow comes to a halt, something you can see every day when you commute on freeways – it’s called “sheer weight of traffic”. All this leads to frustration, and frustrated drivers are not safe drivers. And longer travel times for everybody. It could be avoided by overtaking to space the traffic out.

So that’s the problem, now what about the solution? How about this:

  • Allow a 20% speed limit increase when overtaking on single lane roads. That means you could do up to 120km/h for an overtake in 100 zone, which would bring your time and distance to pass a car doing 90km/h down to around 17 seconds and 580m, not 41 seconds and 1.2km – need to allow a bit of time to get up to 120 and back. This isn’t raising the speed limit to 120 – that’s another discussion – it’s just allowing people to get an overtake done quickly, and not focus on the speedo when they should be looking far, far ahead. Here’s a diagram of what it looks like:

3overtake

  • Encourage a culture of “lift when being passed”. Just a slight easing off on the accelerator as a car goes by makes the overtake that much quicker, and therefore safer. Issue fines for those who do not lift; so we can have the happy situation of someone overtaking at 120km/h not being fined, while the car they are passing speeds up to 105km/h and does get a fine.
  • Include country road overtaking and driving in the driving curriculum. Because it’s not there at the moment. Overtaking is really dangerous, yet it’s not properly taught. Maybe also chuck some fatigue management, basic car repair skills and long-distance navigation in there as well. And trailer towing. But that’s for another time.

The 20% speed increase is pretty much what everyone does worldwide anyway. The difference with Australia is that you are penalised for it. Look at the title photo – the white Kluger is there to collect speeding fines, yet it’s in an absolutely prime spot for safe overtaking.

Begging or yelling at people to keep left won’t work, because the whole road system is set up to encourage people to hog lanes. You can’t change human nature, but you can change the incentives that drive their behaviour and by constantly appealing to drivers authorities show they do not grasp this simple fact.

And yes, we’ve all seen idiot overtake moves. But you know what? Idiots are idiots regardless of the laws, and what about this – how about allowing the police to use their discretion? What’s safe is not necessarily legal, and what’s legal is not always safe. Those highly experienced highway patrol officers know the difference better than any of us. Sadly, they must use their rulebook not their intelligence.

So what do you reckon – should we be allowed to speed up to get overtakes done, or are you happy spending an eternity on the wrong side of the road or cruising well below your preferred speed in a train of other frustrated cars?

Do you speed up when being overtaken? Maybe you’re a fatburg..

  • Monty

    I don’t drive anything like as much as i used to (part of my job before I retired) but your points are well made. The nanny state makes driving more dangerous, not safer. How many head on collisions have occurred because the overtaking driver was afraid to go fast enough? I bet that statistic is not available. I’ve seen enough over 45 years of driving to convince me that the greatest road hazard is idiotic road rules and worse, the dreadful roads we are forced to navigate. An example. Many overtaking lanes are uphill. Fine. Mostly the downhill lane has double lines. If visibility is good, and it often is, why not permit overtaking on the downhill stretch? How many people have literally been bored to death? I know how easy it is to get tired and bored on an interminable stretch of road with just me and the scenery to look at. To prove a point, I crossed the border with SA from Victoria. The limit went from 100 to 110 kmh. I did not die, not even once. Likewise in Tasmania.

    • “not even once”…love it!

    • JH

      There’s a reason the over taking lane is on the uphill section, it is so that you can pass slower heavier vehicles which don’t have the power to weight ratio to maintain their speed when traveling up hill. Also, one of the reasons you should be cautious of overtaking when going down hill is that you are already suffering one of the main drawbacks of going faster – i.e. your braking distance is increased.

      • Monty

        You are quite right. What irritates me is the kilometres of clear road that could be used to overtake if the nannies were not in control. if there was no overtaking lane on the uphill stretch, there would be n double lines.It just reduces the opportunities to overtake. Not everyone does the limit. Try being stuck behind a caravan or ancient truck when it is plain that it is safe to overtake. Been there, done that many times. I won’t tell you how often I’ve ignored the rule as that would be self incrimination.

    • Let me know if you ever die more than once!

    • Teresa Gemellaro

      I tend to see uphill lanes in areas where there are trucks that slow down going uphill eg forestry trucks. This stops other drivers being fristrated behind a vehicle that slows down every now and then.

  • Zorro

    Spot on. Allow a simple 20% for roads whereby the limit is >80km/h. That way, again 80km/h is used as a marker (undertaking not allowed, must be in left lane etc) but allows for a safe overtake. At least have it 100km/h. You will have to allow for idiots though – if I were one and I saw a car over 10km away on the nullabor, then I would go into the opposite lane and travel 20% more – claiming I was ‘overtaking’. But that’s an easy fix.

    The second point won’t work, just like the ‘keep left unless overtaking’ – it’s too hard to enforce and prove.

    One thing missing is that car which does 90km/h until it hits an overtaking lane – then it speeds up to 100km/h, then back again to 90 after it’s all over. All this leads to frustration – and the people who suggest to just chill out are dreaming. They’ve never had to go on 12 hour road trips regularly – let alone two hours or so (except in inner city drivers). Frustration is real, and it’s a killer.

    • Hi Zorro, yes the attitude difference between those who regularly drive trips of more than 5 hours vs those that do not is quite interesting.

  • Reasonable Man

    Reality isn’t what you want it to be, it is actually what is. I think your analysis is realistically indicative and logically sound as to fairly reflect what is unacceptable / unreasonably strict interpretation of inadequate narrative (laws) to create absolute irrefutable legal evidence of technical wrong-doing for levying fines. There used to be a fundamental tenement for law along the lines that no law can require that which a “reasonable man” cannot do. The argument you but forward would be a case in point where such tenement applied would render existing road laws under discussion, in substance, inappropriate and enforcement therefore unreasonable. Action needs to be taken by those subject to the rule of any such law to have it amended to accord to the test of a “reasonable man”. The automobile clubs at state-level throughout Australia must address this injustice in the interests of sensible road safety.

    • Reasonable Man. That is one of the most intelligent pieces of commentary on road rules that I have ever read. Thank you. I hope every automobile club reads it and takes up the cause.

      I remember reading somewhere that if there were no speed limits, it is human nature to drive within one’s limits… but in that unlikely scenario I would like to see a driving licence based on psychological attitude introduced, because there will always be idiots who don’t know their limits!

      • Deevo

        I recall the time when there were only three speed limits in the ACT – 50, 80 and 110kmh. You rarely saw anyone speeding, and people drove to the conditions, rather than the posted speed limit.

        • RWD

          In the NT a 130km/h limit was trialed, they then returned to no speed limit. Logic was exactly that – with a limit, the road toll went up because people would drive at 130km/h when it was unsafe to do so, while when there was no limit they would drive to conditions. Rarely would anyone drive over 150km/h even in the best conditions, and the shortened trip times over long distances reduced fatigue.

          • The new government in the NT have decided to change unlimited sections of the Stuart Hwy back to 130kmh limits. Don’t be surprised if the road toll goes up again.

          • craig_oz_land

            That’s what I read. The death toll went down when the speed limit was removed.

          • Steve of Clare

            This happened in WA sometime ago when limits were increased to 130km/hr in the north west, and the road toll decreased on those sections of roads….but I recall the national road rules bureaucrats killed the 130km/hr off.

          • craig_oz_land

            Yes, because you can’t have any data or truth that goes against the narrative that “speed kills”.

          • Redrufus of England

            I have just read your comment on Breitbart, being so explicit will get you banned, I have been explicit and have been banned 7 x now, I tell you this because I agree with what you said, but for us to get the message over we have to use caution.

          • craig_oz_land

            Thanks Redrufus. What comment was that? Can you put a url link in here? Not banned yet AFAIK.

          • Redrufus of England

            I am sorry I have been too busy since to remember, coincidentally Breitbart has been more lenient today, it is though a very pro Israel publication with plenty of jews contributing, you were making critical comments
            re the jews, I contacted you as my fear is a new contributor can easily step over the mark as I have done, been banned and discouraged.

          • Guest

            Spot on! Having a speed limit takes away any judgement that I need to drive to the conditions. Case in point on the autobahn, as unlimited as it may be, there are some corners you could or should not take at 10/10ths.

            I remember clearly the first corner I took at 190kmh (unlimited section) for the first time that rang a bell in my head that, “Hey, perhaps I need to assess my speed for myself rather than rely on some sign” as the corner was ‘sharp’ for my speed. Subsequent corners I did start to think for myself and lifted off before the corner or used multiple lanes to flatten the corners at the higher speeds. However, rightly so, some corners on the autobahn are 120-130kmh limited albeit actually could be safely done at 140-150kmh.

  • Michael

    The main reason for the Northern Territory having a max speed, on the open road, of 130kph is Road Trains. At 53m long and limited to a max speed of 90kph, it would take an eternity at 110kph to over take such a vehicle. The NT Govt got maths experts to work out the safest max speed for the general public, so that they could overtake these much needed monsters of the road. Hence 130kph.

    • Michael

      I will add, using the maths above and 2 second gap: 56+53+56=165
      165/11 (difference between 90/130 is 11m/s)=15 seconds.
      This then equates to being on the wrong side of the road for 540m instead of 1.8kms at 110kph.

  • Bob

    Scenario question. 60 zone, i’m in front, there is a car behind me. the speed limit then changes to 100. If I go under that I’m impeding the flow of traffic and am breaking the law. so my only option is to increase my speed to match the new speed limit. The car behind me goes to overtake me at the same time. If I speed up at the same time as he overtakes, I am ALSO breaking the law. What is the correct way to handle this situation.

    • Zorro

      You simply speed up to 100km/h. The person behind is being an idiot. Police/ courts will see this. This is why on my comment yesterday I said this particular point would be unenforceable – too much BS to get it right.

      You could just amend the RMS road design rules to have an unbroken overtaking line for 500m after a change of speed limit such as that you describe. That way you have 500m to get up to speed. Even if you’re not there yet, the driver behind will have enough to know whether you’ve just missed the sign/ are a fool or whether you are indeed increasing speed.

    • Bob, if I was being overtaken in that situation I’d accelerate to 100 but more slowly than usual in order to aid the overtake.

    • DEVILTAZ35 .

      the car behind you needs to cancel the overtake as you have right of way over them but if it leads to a dangerous situation just use common sense.

  • Pug

    A much better article, and more reasonable logic supporting it, than the last one. I’ll click share on this one.

  • BJ

    Great article. Had this very problem today driving between Canowindra and Orange in NSW. Caravan being towed at 85kph by 4WD, holding up a SUV with a trailer, and two other cars then me. We had an approx 2km gap of clear straight, high visibility single lane road, all other cars were bunched up behind each other.

    I allowed a 15-20m gap to the last car in the train, i could see the clear road ahead and waited enough time for someone ahead to make a move. No one did anything.

    I know the road well and knew there were no ideal opportunities until much later in the journey, so i made the call and planted it around all of the traffic, did I exceed the speed limit? Of course. Did I get it done quickly and safely? Yes – it actually allowed the vehicle infront of me follow through.

    Had I done the legal thing I would have probably ended up being in a bad situation at the end of the safe bit of road still trying to get around the train.

    This article hits the nail on the head about the need for a compromise between safe and legal.

    • What’s legal is not always safe, what’s safe is not always legal. This is why experienced police officers are around…now we just need to let them use their brains not their rulebooks.

  • Phildatsun

    I agree wholeheartedly this also raises the point of driver education especially city trained motorists how do they get trained on a dirt roads or single lane overtaking on country roads perhaps safety cameras should sit on dirt roads?

    • They don’t. I have ideas for this too. Stay tuned.

  • Stephen McCarthy

    Much better article than some of your others, logical, intelligent and factual. Good article!

    • Better than which ones in particular, Stephen? We are always looking to improve.

  • RSM

    My driving history dates back to 70’s, in those days overtaking meant that were on the wrong side of the road, the drivers test back in those days, asked how to overtake, It was a requirement for the overtaker to accelerate and the vehicle being past to remain at the same speed or slow down to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass with the least amount of time on the wrong side of the road. Now I average around 120K klm’s per year in my car. I have seen a lot changes to the road rules plus the increase of more than double the population and not all are designed with good safe practices. It would be a very strong point that today the aim is hitting speeding drivers for anything over 3 klm/h above the posted speed limit. The revenue is a strong stance for Government and regulators to hold on to their perception that speed kills, to which there is good merit behind that principal however, slow drivers are an increasing danger to road users. There use to be a fine for driving to slow and holding up traffic, that law was removed once the aim was more focused on speeding.

    Today’s driving world is a whole lot different, many factors have become more dangerous than speed of vehicle. If we look at our road system as compared to European roads system, the focus on speed isn’t the high priority and nor is the fines. We have the police focus on the road toll as opposed to what is actually safe road practices ensuring people are more focus on watching the road as opposed to watching there speedometers because of heavy fines and point system that is now designed around people losing there licences, this has lead to people driving much slower and more dangerously. The same goes for lowering speed limits when road conditions haven’t changed but due a road fatality it has become common practice to lower speed limits rather than address the issue for the fatality.

    With this said and whether people agree or not with your post the corruption of monies won’t change anything, some states are using mobile speed camera’s purely based on revenue not the natural flow of traffic.

  • Matt

    Nothing more frustrating than the car being overtaking speeds up during the overtaking manoeuvre. I really like the “lift when being passed” idea.

    • I got it from track driving. Works really well to let by cars that are quick in corners but slow on straights. All 86 owners know of what I speak!

  • Marty

    Yeas I Agree. Even up to 25% Legally. I have always believed that the less time you spend on the wrong side of the road during an overtaking manoeuvre the better

  • Miko

    I attend numerous road accidents on the Bruce highway within a 200 klm radius around a major Central QLD town as an emergency service worker and commute regularly on this deplorable stretch of road. I totally agree that fatigue and frustration will contribute far more to our road toll than speeding (within 20 kmh of the open speed limit) The politicians will continually pressure the police to enforce speed limits as it a great revenue raiser and it makes them appear to be pro active in reducing the road toll. While overseas studies and trials have clearly shown that a higher limit will not increase fatalities but will reduce accident causing fatigue and frustration.

    • Mike

      I was raised in the US. 26 years on the road there. We were taught to pass “as quickly as safely possible”. This meant PUNCH IT, the auto will downshift by itself, and you’re done in seconds. I know the laws here, and I don’t speed in general, but I pass the way I was taught and feel safer in doing so. I caught one fine for it – JUST LIKE THE PICTURE OF THE WHITE KLUGER 😉 LOL and I continue to do it today. I also however SLOW DOWN when being passed at any speed, just to help the other guy make his pass quicker if I can. Be safe out there!

    • Good to hear from an emergency services worker Miko.

    • DEVILTAZ35 .

      Biggest issue in Australia is the roads are in such a terrible state on average that a higher limit would likely get you killed anyway. Overseas it can work as the autobahns are designed for speed. Our roads are truly disgusting except for a few and going too much over the limit is endangering everyone.

  • Andrew

    I’ve been calling BS on country road speed limits for ages.

    My example below is the one I’ve used for a long tine and highlights the issue further, because the trucks we have over here in WA reach 53.5m (I’ve used a nominal 50m for the purpose of my example below). 110kph is used simply because I’m in WA and do a significant amount of highway driving.

    The minimum recommended distances the government recommends is 3 seconds, but have been told at a couple of advanced driver training courses that we should never be closer than 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front, so I will use it instead.

    To safely overtake a 50m road train doing 100kph, in a vehicle doing 110kph, whilst allowing for a minimum 2 second gap at each end of the overtaking manoeuvre, means that you will commence overtaking the truck 60m behind the truck and finish 60m in front of the truck. That means that you will travel a total of 170m to complete the overtaking manoveure.

    At 100kph, the truck is doing 27.8 metres per second, and at 110kph the overtaking vehicle is doing 30.6 metres per second. So the difference in vehicle speeds is 2.8 metres per second.

    That 2.8 metres per second is important because you have to divide the 170m overtaking distance by the 2.8 metres per second to come up with the time that the overtaking manoveure will take. In this case it will take 61 seconds to complete.

    Using that figure of 30.6 metres per second I used earlier, multiply that by the 61 seconds to see how much straight unclear road is needed.

    To safely overtake the 50m road train, at the speed limit, will take 61 seconds and 1.86km of road to complete (assuming no traffic coming the other way). This is why the majority of new overtaking lanes are supposed to be 3km in length, well at least the new ones between Kalgoorlie and Southern Cross are – the government is aware of the issue.

    If the same overtaking manoveure were to occur at 130kph, it would take 20.4 seconds and 737m to complete.

    And this doesnt even factor in the fact that the current road design parameters havent been updated in decades, despite signifcant increases in safety equipment, tyre technology etc etc.

    The reality is the rural speed limit should be 130kph, thats it. They already have areas where 80/90kph signs are placed where the roads get a little tighter/sketchier. If people dont want to drive at 130kph, they dont have to, but at least give people the option to spend as little time as possible on the wrong side of the road (I know for a fact I will always be well over 110kph when performing an overtake for that very reason)

    Food for thought

    I realise I have restated a lot of what he has said in the article, but I think it highlights even further the nonsense we have with country speed limits.

    • Agreed Andrew. I used 2 seconds as it is wise practice to close up a bit before overtaking, and if you are travellling faster than the car you overtake it’s ok to cut in closer than 3 seconds.

      A 1km overtake lane doesn’t work for most situations.

      • DEVILTAZ35 .

        All you need is a vehicle with plenty of grunt that can overtake with ease. The biggest problem with overtaking is drivers underestimate what they are driving. Unless it’s a fairly powerful car overtaking will always be dangerous to a certain extent.

    • “The reality is the rural speed limit should be 130kph, thats it.” Is there ANY reality with speed limits in Australia? Example – the South Eastern Freeway (Prince’s Highway) through the Adelaide Hills is a well made 2 (and in some places, 3) lane road with a very wide, virtually uncrossable strip between south east and north west roadways.

      Despite the safety of this road it has a limit of 110 Km/Hr which is enforced by fixed and average speed cameras.

      Cross the Hay Plain, however and you have a single lane each way, often with no road markings – but plenty of pot holes and assorted bumps. It is the main route for B-Doubles travelling the Adelaide-Canberra-Sydney trip… but I can legally do 110 Km/Hr on it…

      One of the before-mentioned limits is clearly wrong for the road conditions!

  • Jack

    Sorry, your logic fails because you continue to ignore the basic concept of a SPEED LIMIT.
    The “speed limit” is the MAXIMUM SPEED allowed.
    It is NOT the “prescribed” speed of travel.
    Therefore, if the car in front of you is traveling at 99.1 kph, SLOW DOWN, and drive at a safe distance behind it.
    A journey of 600km will take you ONE EXTRA MINUTE.
    Or is the truth really that you believe one minute of your life is SO much more valuable than someone else’s life?

    • RSM

      Obviously Jack, you have made a calculated error on how to calculate speed verse distance & time which makes your response flawed. The speed limit is a legal method of controlling flow of traffic which doesn’t necessarily reflect a true nature of road safety. If it did, we wouldn’t be seeing speed related accidents or head on accidents

      • Ross

        Speed related accidents are always “inappropriate speed”. There are many roads where the speed limit is 100kph but the appropriate speed is much less than this for the vehicle driving the road. As an example I road I drive to work is 100km all the way, lots of corners with recommend slower speeds. My XR8 ute can drive the whole road at 100km when it’s dry. Any rain on the road and I don’t do over 80km as at 100km it is “inappropriate speed” for the conditions. In a 4wd or a truck it can’t be driven safely at anything above 80km as they just can’t handle the corners at that speed. Speed does not kill, inappropriate speed kills.

    • Hi Jack. The speed limits on long, straight-ish bitumen roads are sufficiently low that in almost all cases they are the speed people travel at. There are many examples where that is not the case, for example dirt roads are often 100 but many people travel well below. In Europe with some countries have 120 and 130km/h limits some people choose to travel below the limit.

      Yes, dropping 0.9km/h will add barely any time at all to the journey. But, it will make it impossible to overtake and so over time you will have a train of cars all in the same place. This leads to the traffic jam problem described in the article, and as commenters have said, makes the journey more stressful.

  • Shane Dowie

    Acceleration is a safety tool !!! Where’s the common sense ??

  • Denis Starrs

    Well I am the bloke that you all love to hate. I drive an old truck and I struggle to hold 80 km/h on the flat. I watch the traffic behind and do everything possible to help them pass me. My favourite gripe against the speedsters is with those who, when I have moved to the left hand lane of an overtaking section, will not allow me to merge back into the traffic at the end of the left hand lane. I am repeatedly forced to stop and wait for a break in the traffic before I can get back onto the highway. I am talking about the Monaro Highway in the snow season.

    • No Denis, nobody hates you. Your truck’s top speed is what it is. But:

      “I watch the traffic behind and do everything possible to help them pass me.”

      is the key. That’s good, considerate driving. Respect.

    • Andrew Riles

      I also drive an older slower vehicle, and try to be a courteous driver when I can’t maintain the speed limit, however people overtaking right at the end of overtaking lanes (or over a double white line just before the start of them) is a real problem…..and in many cases a lose-lose situation for the person being overtaken, they either go off the road to let the car past, or cut in in front of it and risk an accident and/or road rage….

  • From a reader via email:

    “My input is as follows. Firstly, I’m 60 years old,
    learned to drive at 8 thanks to my farm born father, got my
    license on my 18th birthday and have not lost it, yet. I am a car
    enthusiast and have for a 10 year period driven suburban buses. I
    also have a heavy combination license. Given the purpose of road
    law is to enable the safe flow of traffic, when a conflict occurs
    I have always driven to MY safety logic rather than the law. The
    first law is to avoid a collision to the extent of over riding
    all other road law, or at least is was when I got my license back
    in 1974.

    I rarely drive on single lane
    country roads but on those occasions, I can and do pass quickly
    and efficiently in either my 6 litre V8 Holden or my 7.2 litre
    Dodge due to their power. Both have phenomenal acceleration and
    yet this doesn’t always get me past quickly due to the stupidity
    of the driver I’m overtaking. Recently between Bendigo and
    Ballarat, I was behind an incompetent driver clearly having
    extreme difficulty with the road conditions. Speeding up and
    slowing, wandering left and right and never exceeding 80kph. The
    lack of skill began to concern me and I feared and accident may
    happen. On reaching a clear straight section of road I
    accelerated to pass only to find the other car speed up to
    100kmh! At this point I booted the big 7.2 litre quickly passing
    and exceeding 140kph. I was originally passing at about 110kmh
    and was forced to make a split second decision so I took the
    safest choice.

    I’ve driven extensively in
    England, Canada and the United States and this is not something
    I’ve encountered in any of these countries. Freeways have similar
    limits to Australia but the Police are not interested unless
    you’re either speeding in bad weather conditions or you’re over
    100mph (160kmh) Drivers religiously keep left and never venture
    into the passing lane unless passing and quickly. On the M25
    heading south from Heathrow in a 60mph limit, I moved into the
    passing lane doing 80mph and promptly found an Audi braking hard
    behind me! It’s a different world where logic prevails and I soon
    got the hang of it all.

    The Victorian
    authorities need to be made to accept that it is not speed that
    kills but rather inappropriate speed. You can kill someone at
    5kmh or be safe at 200kmh. Road conditions, weather and driver
    skill all come into play but the government have merely dropped
    the limits to reflect the lowest common denominator while raising
    their revenue. This simply penalises good drivers. The Hume
    freeway, for instance, was constructed to safely carry the lowest
    common denominator at 130kmh but the limit is 110kmh. I don’t
    believe the Victorian government are serious about road safety,
    nor do they appear concerned about the $27 billion TAC bill per
    year or the suffering and loss of productivity that represents.”

  • Robert Withall

    This not exceeding the speed limit to pass is not only rediculous it is dangerous. Any competent advanced driving instructor will tell you it is far safer to pass another car as quickly as you can. We now have this stupid senario in Australia where motorists are so afraid to pass a slower car and we end up with all these convoys of cars banked up travelling at the same speed as the slowest car. All afraid they might get a speeding fine. Travelling in a convoy all banked up is dangerous. But it is political correct so the stupidity continues. And our politicians are to gutless to change it because it will mean conflict with the citified bureaucrats. Even motoring ecperts from overseas when they come here cannot believe our motoring rules.

  • Graham Bradley

    Robert
    Pepper is talking common sense but even if his plan were implemented
    the constabulary would quickly stomp it out. After you have overtaken
    at 120% of the speed limit do you hit the brakes (endangering the
    overtaking vehicle behind you) ? Do you plan to save fuel by coasting
    back to the speed limit only to find Constable Plod around the next bend
    and his 1990s vintage radar ? The problem is the points system was
    introduced in the 1980s when there was less chance of being caught
    speeding. Now a thousand drivers a week loose their license, often
    because they were a little over the speed limit just once a year. No
    wonder there are so many unlicensed drivers on the road.

    • No, never hit the brakes when overtaking unless you really need to and that would be a sign of a poor overtake. It’ll also scare all drivers behind you.

      Simply ease off the accelerator and let the speed drop down to the usual limit.

      • DEVILTAZ35 .

        A good rule is if you have an under powered car don’t attempt to overtake in the first place.Unless you can quickly overtake someone it’s safer to just sit behind them, If they are doing 90 in a 100 zone then just wait it out as unless you are on a 5 or more hour trip the 10 km difference is not worth getting worked up over and they are saving you fuel.

  • Ian Turner

    I revert to the overriding rule of common sense and do speed up when passing – I choose to risk a fine rather than death! Some have touched on it – the most common frustrating situations occur on passing lanes – eg vehicle taking the whole passing lane distance to pass the slowest vehicle; a slow vehicle that actually goes faster on the passing lane then slows down again at the other end; and once passed and I have pulled left, then being passed by another vehicle that once ahead slows down to below the speed limit and what I was doing. Fits the old joke statement that if you lined all the vehicles in Australia up nose to tail and said go, 95% would pull out to pass the car in front.

  • Steve of Clare

    Many years ago a Doctor rushing to a patient near Whyalla in South Australia was caught travelling at 140km/hr after overtaking two slow moving vehicles. He contested the infringement notice accepting he should be fined for speeding, but argued that he was not driving dangerously and should not lose three demerit points. The Magistrate agreed, fined the doctor only for speeding, with no loss of points. Practical Magistrate.

    • RSM

      The problem with that here in Vic is the sentencing laws are different, e.g. If you elect to go to court to challenge a fine unless you plead not guilty and win the not gully verdict you will lose the points even if the fine is zero.

  • SteveK

    I go thru this drama very very regularly as I drive a SUV between Adelaide to Melbourne and back. Yes, build better roads, give us an extra 20% when overtaking, and bring driving into the curriculum! Then RAISE the speed limit to 120kph on open roads!

  • Antonino Esposito

    All this talking why not learn to overtake in the first place and if you can’t then don’t. If you are getting annoyed and frustrated pull over what’s the rush. Let the traffic go and go again when the build up is gone. Seriously though you are in a car not a truck . You can overtake in a couple of 100 metres with plenty of spare room and time to know it was done safely. If you don’t know how long your vehicle is you should find out.
    You are not in a semi trailer over taking a car you are in a car he who hesitate s is lost. It should come natural when driving and if it doesn’t don’t do it and book yourself in to a advance driving school to help you get or get back the confidence you once had and lost.

    • Hello Antonio. Please post the maths that shows you can overtake in “a couple of 100 metres” within the speed limit.

      Pulling over is not an option if the road is busy, and what if you have many, many hours of driving to do?

  • rodney

    Great article. I used to bang my head over these sorts of ridiculous laws as well. Until I found out that they are not Laws at all but just rules. The Traffic Act is precisely just that. A bunch of rules to ‘guide’ ‘travelers’. Rules, acts, legislation, by-laws etc only pertain to corporations/person’s anyway. None of us are ‘person’s’ btw. We are men and women. If you hold a State licence with an ALL CAPS surname printed ABOVE your given name, you are required to obey all statutes. Sit behind slower cars or take your chance and maybe you might cop a fine. Unfortunately that’s what you have agreed to by ‘applying’ for a licence. AUSTRALIA is a privately owned corporation. You are incorporated to the COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA via your birth Certificate surname. The objective of all corporations is to make profit for the shareholders. You see, no amount of arguing over these millions of rules that make no sense is going to change things. They might fix this rule for you but then they will just create another silly one that can make up the shortfall in profit. This may be hard for many to accept but the COA actually cares not at all for your safety. The COA is a corporation that needs to profit so it can pay the Federal Reserve. Check out the GLOSSA Channel on you tube to find out about this deception and how you have become just a number to make profit for THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA or the QUEENSLAND GOVERNMENT etc.

    • Still got to obey them. The legality of the rules is not in question, just the usefulness to society.

      • rodney

        No, you do not have to obey them. You have a choice. Keep your surname and you have no choice. Give the surname back to the corporation that created it and you will
        enjoy total freedom of which man was designed to have by God. It’s not an easy choice, but then, total freedom is not for everyone.

        • Yeah…let’s keep this reality based. Sovereign citizen fantasy has no place here.

        • DEVILTAZ35 .

          lol weird way to live as you can’t have a bank account, can’t use visa debit cards. No thanks. I only ever use my own money and don’t have any loans or money owing but no way i would ever want to be carrying cash around all the time either.

  • David Hill

    Brilliant article. adding to this problem is the fact that (for whatever reason…. penis size or penis envy?) that car that’s been doing 90 in a hundred zone for ages will speed up to 110 when the overtaking lane arrives.
    A woman who does this regularly (and then flashes the lights, blasts the horn and reports you to the police when you pass her) did exactly all that to me. She would actually drive at 40 in an 80 zone and then jump to 90/100 in the overtaking section, while the 10 cars banked up behind her tried dangerously to get past her.
    She reported me, I explained to the cop and he sided with me, he said it’s like an epidemic, people will speed up when being overtaken, no matter how slow they were going before!!

  • Jon L

    Bugger the legal situation. I pass as quickly and safely as possible, regardless of what speed I have to do to do it. Probably comes from 45 years of riding high performance bikes where the margin for error is slim and the results of getting it wrong can be disasterous.

  • Aoyagi

    Have you ever heard of anyone being fined for speeding while overtaking?

    • Oh yes. Look at the comments here and on our Facebook page.

      https://www.facebook.com/PracticalMotoring/

      There’s someone who has had their one and only ever speeding fine for overtaking sitting next to me now!

      • Aoyagi

        Well, I’m rather sceptical about truthfulness of anonymous Facebook comments and people accusing police of misbehaviour (scepticism resulted from learning how many of these stories are half-true or just fake altogether).

        Even your colleague/mate could be overtaking someone dangerously, frantically, recklessly, or whatever, and the cops decided to go with the speeding fine because that’s the easiest one to do.

        But coming from you it’s probably true in which case the cops are obviously wankers with poor judgement, but I don’t think there is a way to formulate a law for this that’s not easy to abuse.

        • Aoyagi, the commenters here tend to be a bit more mature than the average. You can rest assured that if 10-15 have said they are booked, then probably 90% of that is true.

          The cops need to follow the rules. They may not like the law, but they have to enforce it. That doesn’t make them wankers. Also, if they are not permitted to exercise their discretion that doesn’t make them wankers either. Reserve your ire for the true culprits, the weak-spined pollies who take the easy way out on ‘road safety’.

          There is an easy way out and I’ve described it. Or, do what other countries do and turn a blind eye to speeding when overtaking.

        • Doug Mullett

          in some places, police have no discretion. They must book anyone travelling over a given speed.
          In Victoria, with camera cars on the side of the road, the speed detection is automatic and so discretion cannot be applied.

  • Bronzed Copper

    I used to be a country copper in regional WA, which included highway patrols as a part of our duties. From family and friends, I knew that England was very tolerant of overtaking speeds, and I’ve always believed that it is much safer to spend the least amount of time as possible on the wrong side of the road, due to the amount of crashes that I’ve attended on country roads, along with my experiences of riding motorcycles on country roads. I also understand how bad some drivers can be in relation to holding up traffic, having fined one elderly (and irate) gentleman for obstructing traffic along Albany Highway. He had absolutely no idea that there were over THIRTY vehicles behind him, including trucks, but believed that it was his right to travel at whatever speed he wanted. Fortunately, the magistrate disagreed with him…

    On one occasion, we set up our mobile traffic stop (RBT, laser speed detection, license & vehicle checks, etc.) just north of Albany. Our crew very rarely booked anything that was below 120km/h (aside
    from semi’s), but that was our personal choice and discretion. We were more interested in serious speeders and dodgy looking drivers or vehicles, because criminals have to get around somehow… and they’re less likely to obey traffic laws than the rest of us. However, on this day, my partner detected a vehicle overtaking three cars, coming down a steep, long hill towards us, at over 130km/h. He pulled the car over, and thus began the debate between the three of us about what should be considered a reasonable speed during overtaking. My partner wanted to fine the driver, the driver pleaded with my partner to understand her argument, and I agreed with her. In the end, common sense prevailed and the driver was let off with a caution. However, please understand that not every copper will do this, and I think that depends very much on their own experiences.
    I was very fortunate to grow up in the mid-north of SA, but lost a couple of friends to poor roads, and poor decisions. Being on the wrong side of the road for too long, is one of the worst decisions that Australian drivers have to make, and personally, I think that legislation needs to be amended so that coppers can make the call as to what is safe, or not – and drivers should be able to have a defence in court, if they are fined for speeding during overtaking.
    Before I became a copper in WA, I was nabbed for speeding in SA, whilst overtaking a road train. At the time of the offence, it was becoming dark, and I misjudged the length of the semi. Then, as I was passing it, a set of headlights suddenly appeared over the crest of the hill in front of us – so I instinctively floored it, and my V8 willingly obliged. However, the headlights belonged to a highway patrol vehicle, who turned around and came after us. When he finally caught up with us (several kilometres later), he showed me that his radar had clocked me at 183km/h… He asked me if I had a lawful excuse for this
    excessive speed, but all I could tell him was that I had misjudged the truck, and that there was an incredibly strong tail wind at the time.
    I was lucky. Even though he was young, this lad was obviously an experienced and fair copper, who understood the perils of overtaking, took my arguments on board, and gave me the lowest fine he could.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the author of this article. In Australia, we have to travel some of the greatest distances between cities in the world (Adelaide to Perth – 2700km; Adelaide to Darwin – 3000km), but we suffer with some of the worst roads on the planet. Throw into that mix, a lack of standardised, high quality pre-license driver training, and it’s a recipe for death and destruction… which your emergency responders, and television stations, see constantly.
    One of the best bits about being a country copper, used to be taking people for their practical driver’s license tests, before the DOT took it over. I liked starting off by asking the nervous applicants if they could do a reverse parallel park. Most of them replied that they’d been practicing heaps, and thought that they could…
    “That’s nice…,” I’d say, “…remember that for when you’re in the city. Right, let’s go and hit the highway”. Our main concern as country coppers, was reducing the amount of carnage on our roads due to bad decision making. There are not many bad things in life, as being called out to a motor vehicle crash, and then finding out that one or more of the victims are your friends. That hurt never goes away… ever.
    So, amongst other things, we focused our testing on the applicant’s ability to drive safely at speed on a highway, and being able to overtake safely. We would never pass a driver who was not able to drive at the posted speed comfortably, or not able to overtake safely and efficiently.
    Finally, I would always advise my drivers to NEVER, EVER look at their speedometer during an overtaking manoeuvre, but to stay focused on their task – what’s in front of them, and around them. I really do hope that our driver testing back then, has saved some lives over the years.
    Thank you so much for this article Rob. It really does need to be talked about and put into the public eye. Hopefully it will gain some momentum, and possibly become a subject of government debate sooner rather than later. I recommend that perhaps you forward a copy of your article to Senator Ricky Muir, so that he might take up the cause for us all.
    Keep fighting the good fight mate, and keep the shiny side up 😉

    • Wow, thanks Bronzed Copper! (two colours in one 🙂

      Given your experience it means a lot to read your post.

      Unfortunately, Senator Muir is out of office. I interviewed him twice and he was definitely very supportive of changes such as this – he’s a country guy, and expressed frustration with people who have only city experience making laws that affect country people.

      https://practicalmotoring.com.au/car-news/senator-ricky-muir-talks-to-practical-motoring/

      He told me about some Canberra people who wanted to know why cars killed animals on the roads and why drivers couldn’t just brake or swerve instead. Or just not travel at dusk at all.

      Check back in a couple of weeks, I’ve got another one coming that would you good for you to look at.

      • AJN_89

        *Former* Senator Muir – I don’t think his “out of office” will be switched off any time soon…

    • Doug Mullett

      I can only agree with the comments above – once overtaking, the important thing is to get back quickly and safely, and looking at the speedo does not help.
      Some country coppers do use common sense – they measure your speed driving, but not overtaking!

  • Maxwell Clark

    I live in a country town in South Western Victoria. Out here I regularly head off to the major local towns which incorporates driving on country highways for up to 1 hour in either direction. The thing is that I hate driving on the highways during holidays, weekends etc as the roads are full of city drivers and most do not know how to drive on country roads and this is also shown by the amount of accidents which involve city drivers on country roads. Now the thing is, most of the time when driving and passing a city driver, they will either normally speed up ie 80k to 90k to 100k to 105k and once you have had to floor it to get pass them they will normally tailgate you for a couple of k’s before they start to back off again or as what has happened several times is that they will try to overtake you so as to be back in front as they normally do in the city. Now I have seen some very stupid driving out in the country by city drivers and yes some locals as well as you do get idiots everywhere but I must say city drivers are the worst. Now getting back to accidents that happen on country roads, for 10 years I worked as road rescue (before SES came about) and YES we kept stat’s on all accidents. Out of all of the accidents 90% involved city drivers and out of the 90%, 85% were caused by city drivers – FACT. The reason for this is that city drivers are so use to driving short distances, some at flat out speeds, heavy braking, heavy acceleration, tailgating, not looking further down the road to see what is ahead, talking on mobiles and or txting etc. They are NOT use to long distance driving and as such become tired/fatigued quickly, cannot judge distances correctly, do not know the roads and many other things. Also out here when we pass another car, truck etc what we do is hold back, look way ahead for the right time to pass and then make the pass. Yes some times the speeds do get upto around the 120 mark but once back in our lane our speeds drop back to the speed limit. The other thing is that if we are over taking another country driver they will slow down a little bit so as to allow a safe overtaking for both of us. One other thing is that most country cops know all of this and use their intelligence etc on whether the car they are viewing is over taking in a safe way or not. The thing is most country cops know their locals and as our local cop has said he knows when a city driver is coming down the highway just by the way he/she is driving compared to a local. As he states they stand out like dogs, well you know what. City drivers will tailgate where as country drivers do not as they know the dangers but cty drivers do not. Now I could go on and on but will leave it there.

  • Ziggy

    With GPSs and cruise controls it’s often worse than your scenarios Robert, with drivers bunching up at just under the max. Then if they’re towing, they drop back a bit uphill, when overtaking is often impossible due to lack of vision, and speed up a bit going down the other side, when overtaking would be possible!

    And don’t get me started about traffic control and motorbikes. I’ve ridden for decades, and my cornering, overtaking and braking are all faster than a car’s, yet I’m limited to what a 1989 Toyota Corolla can do.

    I think there should be an expert category of driver’s/rider’s license which permits exceeding the speed limit when safe to do so.

  • tom

    120km/h is suitable for overtaking lanes, roads what are missing overtaking lanes or they are too far away need higher speed to takeover safely because of shorter straight roads.

  • DEVILTAZ35 .

    Bugger that just put the boot into a 3.6 litre engine or whatever you have. takes about 3 seconds to easily clear the car you are overtaking then you just settle back to the speed limit. Never been booked doing this as long as you don’t deliberately stay at too fast a speed.

    • Plenty of modern 4cyl cars can overtake quickly. Unfortunately, plenty of people have been done for speeding while overtaking. Look at the title shot – that Kluger is in a prime overtaking spot and it’s not there to wish drivers merry xmas.

      • Ziggy

        Yep. I just got pinged 3 points and $300 for clipping a white line on the motorbike, in a perfectly safe manoeuvre.

        • DEVILTAZ35 .

          What state is this ? i am in NSW and never seen anyone booked for safe overtaking unless they overtake at 160 plus or something silly.
          If a car is doing 90 then 115-120 should be ample to overtake safely. If it’s not safe then it’s not safe to overtake in that particular location and you should wait anyway.
          I have seen it time and time again where people overtake when another car is clearly visibile coming the other way even though it may be a fair way off it is obviously going to cover that distance rather rapidly coming towards you.

          People misjudging distance of cars in the opposite direction is the main reason for head ons.

          • MW

            It may not be explicitly said, but I assumed the implied intention is backing off once the overtaking car has moved into the other lane

            Great article, and I really like “inappropriate speed kills” rather than “speed kills”

          • DEVILTAZ35 .

            True , speed itself doesn’t kill it’s the moron behind the wheel doing the killing.
            i am having the worst luck at the moment , got back to my car today from doing shopping and someone has scratched the bonnet. Doesn’t polish out either.
            I am sick of tired of people who think it’s ok to destroy or deface other people’s property.

          • That’s correct MW, just a back off slightly as the other car pulls alongside.

  • JaiNormosone

    The simple fact of the matter is that I am in a better and more-informed position to determine what is safe over that GREED Camera parked on the side of the road – and sitting on the wrong side for any longer than necessary is far more dangerous than exceeding the speed limit. It’s just a shame that the revenue-centric governments and senior (aka: political) police refuse to believe that it will contribute to the road toll.

    Encouraging people to “lift” is a bad idea because the person performing the manoeveur need consistency while performing the action. Changes to that adds danger to the situation where many car-operators will not be able to cope.

  • Brian Robertson

    Robert Pepper is spot on with his article on overtaking speeds. If the authorities are serious about reducing the road toll then they should look outside the square and understand that driver frustration can be play a large part of driver error, resulting in accidents. Any unsafe regulation should not be allowed to remain on the books. Why don’t we take advice from Europe. Germany has about 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people, Australia 5.7. Yes and Germany has a far greater tolerance on speed. Inappropriate Speed kills not the simplistic slogan of “Speed Kills” as used in Victoria which, I believe, is scorned by most reasonably thinking people. Thank you to Robert for writing this article.

    • craig_oz_land

      Brian, the Germans are smarter on average than Australians. Most of our laws are made for the lowest common denominator. We have lots of immigrants who are not very good at driving. Asians and Black Africans are some of the worst generally speaking.

  • SgtCarlMc

    I cannot work out your logic in times for over-taking, if A car is doing 90 kph and you are doing 100 kph, why then you say the difference is 10 kph, that’s right, but then you say 10 kph takes 2.8 mts/sec, but your not doing 10 kph, your doing 100 kph

    Your devideing 117 mts by 10 kph, not 100 kph, it should take you 6 secs at the most, 10 more reasonable, even that’s more than I would need. I just read more, now your saying what’s 10 kph more on the same side as a B double, your not travelling at 10 kph, your doing 100 kph, if you spend 48 secs on the other side of the road, you deserve everything you get

    Drive up to car, look behind, indicate, pull out drive 100 kph, to his 90, pass and slot back in, 10 secs

    • craig_oz_land

      He’s showing how long it takes to create safe distances between overtaking vehicles at the difference in speeds between the vehicles.

    • Hi – yes, this can be a confusing concept.

      10km/h is the overtake speed, 100km/h is the travelling speed.

      Think of it this way – 10km/h is a very brisk walking pace. Imagine you had to fast-walk for 117m metres. How long would it take you? Even Usain Bolt takes about 10 seconds to do 100m, and this is 100m and we’re not Usain Bolt.

      So the math is to work out low long it takes to overtake at 10km/h. Once you have that amount of time, you can figure out how much distance you’ll travel.

      If you did that 117m and the car you were overtaking was doing 0km/h, then the answer is 117m. But as you’re doing 100km/h it’s a lot longer.

      Yes, most people do overtake in around 10 seconds, but they don’t overtake at a rate of 10km/h, and they often pull out and cut in later.

      The point of the article is to show how unrealistic the government’s advice is.

    • Doug Mullett

      Study maths – then it is clear. Robert is correct – from a maths teacher!

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com