Overtaking lanes… and why they’re dangerous?

Just the other day I was overtaken right at the end of an overtaking lane… it was dangerous. I got angry. But I was in the wrong.

IN TRUTH, I was going a touch over the speed limit. I wasn’t trying to speed up to stay in front of the driver attempting to overtake me, rather I’d just reached the top of a long uphill stretch where the overtaking lane extends for well over one kilometre and had crept over the speed limit of 100km/h.

My indicator was on and my kids were in the car. I’d already checked my mirrors and there was a dual-cab ute well back. And I mean a good 100m back. I turned my gaze back to the road ahead and then checked my shoulder just before I began to move across. As I applied a degree or two of turn to the steering, the vehicle’s blind-spot monitoring began to flash just as the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I veered slightly back towards the fast diminishing section of lane, and applied the brakes. Hard.

The dual cab ute driver had screamed up to overtake me and was now denying me access to the lane proper. And, technically, he was doing nothing wrong.

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See, it doesn’t matter that I was well in front of the other car when I began to indicate and had done everything the law dictates you must do when merging, I had to give-way to the other car.

Per the law in New South Wales, “Where the lane you are driving in ends and you have to cross lane lines to merge with the traffic in another lane, give way to traffic in the other lane”.

If, however, I’d been driving in a lane where the line markings ended before the lane became one, then the driver of the dual-cab would have had to yield to me. “Sometimes the lane line ends before the lanes merge, as shown below. When merging, the trailing vehicle gives way to the vehicle ahead. Use caution when merging,” says the Roads and Maritime Services website.

See the picture below detailing the above scenarios:

In this scenario, the green car has right of way and the blue car must yield the lane.
In this scenario, the blue car must give-way to the green car, even though it’s ahead of it and potentially travelling at the same speed.

So, depending on the situation there are two different merging rules. Now, how many of you knew that? This rule is one that’s common throughout Australia and became a national rule back in 1999.

But, in the situation I’ve just described, I was a long way ahead of the vehicle in the right-hand lane that I theoretically had to give-way to. But there’s nothing in the road rules about how close the car must be to you before you must yield to it. So, I maintain that I was in the ‘right’ and could have safely merged ahead of the other car if it had maintained the speed limit, which it didn’t.

Now, I know this is wrong, but I have always maintained that if I’m in the lane that’s ending, and I’m ahead of the car in the overtaking lane, then I have right of way. The road rules say I don’t. In fact, the road rules say I could lose three demerit points for failing to give-way.

But, what’s more dangerous, to allow the car to merge if it’s ahead of you, or to block it out and cause it to either A) run off the road or, B) brake heavily before the lane ends or, C) move across anyway out of panic and cause the car in the right-hand lane to move across into either A) the path of oncoming traffic or, B) brake heavily and possibly cause an accident.

So, why the two rules for merging? Well, there’s no explanation from the various road authorities, just a parroting of the two rules. And I’m ignoring slip/merging lanes on a highway in this discussion as I think they’re a totally different thing altogether.

If you talk to driver trainers about this rule, and I have done, they’ll tell you that you must A) speed up to the national limit for that section of road, and B) give-way to the car on the right, unless, as the law states, the lane ends without markings, but that also the car travelling the lane to your right should be sensible and not speed up to block the car merging. Huh? No wonder Australian drivers are rubbish.

In my situation, giving way meant coming to a complete stop to avoid running off the road just because some moron was speeding and wanted to get past a car that was doing more than the speed limit… I was doing 104km/h.

What compounded my frustration was that the idiot who’d sped up to block me then slowed down to 85km/h (in a 100km/h) zone. Not far down the road another overtaking lane opened (I was travelling through an area littered with pine forests and so the numerous overtaking lanes are there to give traffic a chance to get past slow-moving logging trucks) and so I moved out into the overtaking lane and sped up to 100km/h to overtake. I’m sure you can guess what happened next…

Yep, the dual-cab ute who’d been doing 85km/h, decided to speed up to the point that with the overtaking lane coming to an end, where the dual-cab ute should have yielded the lane to me, I was forced to brake to avoid being pushed onto the wrong side of the road.

Having two rules for merging lanes either when two lanes become one, or you’re coming to the end of an overtaking lane is plain dumb. And numerous surveys have revealed more than half of all Australians either had no idea there were two lane merging laws, or that in an overtaking lane situation that the car on the left, regardless of whether it’s safely ahead of the car in the overtaking lane must give-way.

But giving way in an overtaking lane situation means one car must bleed speed and, potentially, if there are several cars in the overtaking lane, possibly come to a complete stop. This means, that when the line of overtaking traffic has passed that vehicle, and any cars following it, it/they must pull out and accelerate back to the speed limit. Hopefully this sounds as dumb and dangerous to you as it does to me.

My suggestion is simply this, that there should be one rule for merging and that is that if you’re ‘safely’ ahead of the car on your right and are travelling at the speed limit then you should be given right of way to merge.

For those who’ve read this and are about to pull the ‘slower traffic’ card think about this for a second, would you really, say, deny access to a semi-trailer? Whether the vehicle merging is travelling slower than you or not, it’s unsafe to force the vehicle in the merging lane to stop or run out of merging lane.

Question: Do let me know what you think and whether you agree, disagree, or have an alternative solution?

This article was originally published in January this year, but with the school holidays in full swing and its relevance high, we thought we’d republish it.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.