Voices

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.

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:

merge-lanes-1
In this scenario, the green car has right of way and the blue car must yield the lane.
merge-lanes-2
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.

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


  • Graeme

    Sir i beleive that in both overtaking diagrams you display, that car A should be given right of way,, To avoid a serious incident , car B just has to decrease his speed marginaly , the right is not always right .plus car B may think ahead a little instead of endangering the life of others.and also car A could possibly merge earlier.but i do believe that in these two incidents car A should have the right of way.

    • JaiNormosone

      Common sense would dictate that you are correct but there is a mindset in this country that if something is a law then that person feels entitled to do whatever they feel like doing in order to retain their “right”.

    • harold

      No, where the dashed line continues to the end, it indicates a secondary lane and the driver must give way to all traffic in the primary lane.

      If the dashed line ends then the lanes are “merging” and the drivers give way on the basis of precedence.

      Its pretty simple. Only freeways have merging lanes.

  • Adzee Aus

    Thank you for educating everyone on crap rules but at least people might be more aware of the rules at a minimum.

  • Dan

    The rules need standardising, but, really, common sense is the key.

  • dilligaf

    Remember no one has “right of way”, it is always who has to give way.

    You are either zip merging, as in top diagram, which means the car behind gives way to the car in front, or you are changing lanes to merge (crossing a lane line). In that instance, lane change rules apply, you change lanes, you give way.

  • Monty

    Whatever the rights and wrongs according to the rules, everyone is required to drive in a way that avoids an accident. The ute (truck?) was in the wrong simply because the driver created a dangerous situation. And yes, some our road rules really make no sense at all.

  • JaiNormosone

    The biggest problem with this was that a dual-cab ute was able to cover roughly 100 metres of distance on you while you were doing 104kph. I would suggest that you weren’t watching your mirrors quite as often as you should have. Had you been watching, a brake-stab would not have been required.
    Additionally, it is well-known that when one is driving in NSW, almost everyone seems to speed up in overtaking lanes to jockey for position or prevent others overtaking before settling down to 10-15 below the limit. This is very evident around the north coast from Coffs Harbour to the Queensland border.

    Every state in this country seems to have their own nuances for operating motor vehicles (as very, very few people seem to know how to actually “drive”) – and the overtaking lane thing is the one for NSW.

    • Look, the 100m might have been a stretch. But, I was trying to suggest it was a good way behind me when I checked the first time and the second time. Then when I flicked the indicator he was still behind me, but closing fast. The driver knew exactly what I wanted to do and he intentionally raced to overtake me at the last minute. – Isaac

      • JaiNormosone

        Fair enough. It can be difficult to determine distance by mirror and a common practice in Queensland is to indicate and change lanes without looking with the expectation that the person behind will let you in.
        A lot of people do exactly what you say (increasing speed) and I am often criticized by my better half for pointing out what I think someone will do on the road before they do it. It comes from many years of driving a wide variety of vehicles from trucks to tractors to motorcycles and even bicycles. A driver needs to be aware that another person is potentially going to do the inconsiderate/moronic thing rather than being sensible.

        Another thing that many people don’t believe of me is when I state that particular makes and models of vehicle attract certain types of vehicle operator – and it is reflected in their behaviour. Nine times out of ten, the fact is proven.

        • dilligaf

          Unfortunately its not illegal to be a moron unless they are breaking the law. They broke two laws, exceeding the speed limit, and driving without due care. However you are still required to give way.

          Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        • Dennis

          You and I think much alike.
          (1) Some mirrors actually have a warning saying that objects in the mirror are actually closer than they appear.
          (2) Intuition and experience, especially from motorcycling, do tend to give you the ability to guess what a driver in another car will do, sometime before they actually do it. I have experienced that many times and still do.
          (3) I agree about the makes and models part only might suggest vehicle types and demographics. I will get a bit of flak for saying this though it is my experience. Young women in small SUVs are the worst I have found and they seem to think they are bulletproof when on the roads.

      • nufan20

        It seems at least in part the essence of your article is that by following a road rule your safety and that of your passengers was put in jeopardy (at the hands of another road user).

        Where there is a conflict between a road rule and my safety, or that of my passengers I’m happy to wear the legal consequences of what happens next. I’m not suggesting run others off the road, rather where appropriate assert your vehicle’s position on the road and don’t give pests an opportunity to take a shot. No point to our families being dead and right.

      • Passing By

        I got a ticker for overtaking a vehicle that was doing 80.. I got done for 104 (-3).. the quote from the officer was something like this: “the speed limit shall not be exceeded for any reason”

        In your situation – The Ute is a smart-ars pushing their luck hard. Slowing down to 85 after the overtaking lane deserves the video from the dash cam to be submitted to Dash Cams Australia.

  • Thanks Andrew, I did read that, and that’s what makes the rules so confusing… But, no, merging after an overtaking lane is a definite give-way scenario. – Isaac

  • Dennis

    I totally agree with the comments about the two rule regarding merging traffic, whether it is at the end of an overtaking lane or merging traffic onto a main road for instance. Regardless whether people really know the rules or not, very few people stop and give way if a white line is in place. Personally I think that having to stop and give way is much more dangerous than the alternative; not to mention the potential for hot collars and road rage (another issue).
    I would also like to dampen the concept of ‘Right of Way’. During my earlier days of driver training I was always taught that the notion of having the ‘right of way’ did not exist. Drivers are sometimes required to ‘give way’ and nobody has the ‘right of way’. Consider that with the requirement that all drivers must take all necessary action to avoid an accident under any circumstances, forcing ones way, rightly or wrongly, in any situation is unacceptable. I am not even sure that any road rule advises that a particular driver has a ‘right of way’ in any situation.
    Another sad factor in merging lanes is that not a lot of people really seem to know how to merge safely and are nervous about doing so, hence they will slow down and exacerbate the problem. Along with the confusion of white lines or no white lines, does anyone ever teach drivers how to merge into traffic safely?

  • Mr Majestyk

    Given the deplorable lack of opportunity to overtake on country roads, overtaking lanes are like gold. Having sit behind cars willing to do 10-20 under the limit and then getting the chance to overtake as many people as possible I will take that opportunity with both hands. I don’t cut people in the inside lane off, but if I see a gap I’ll use before the lane ends. Trouble is most idiots think they should overtake at 1km/h faster than the other car and as along as they can complete their overtaking they don’t give a stuff about the 10 cars behind them. So make hay while the sun shines if it’s safe.

    The biggest issue you had was a moron that moved so fast to cut you off, then went back to 15 under the limit anyway, but I expect that from most ute drivers, about as bad as they get these days

  • 1250

    I don’t no if most of the drivers in this discussion were taught to drive in Aussie or UK ( me UK ) ,Shorly, it’s just being curtiouse ,to let the driver in from the left ,as l do without hesitation, if the lane is ending .
    It’s not a race trake , it’s just reading the road ,and trying to read other drivers intentions safely !!!!
    Happy new year to all drivers state wide

  • SgtCarlMc

    I was taught that the “zipper method” should be the way to go, simple to do, just needs education for the masses. If done right, makes merging simple, everyone gets to be in line one after the other

  • Steve Bekkers

    the dual cab ute was obviously driven by a far superior “person” Issac, you should have behaved in a more subservient manner. lol.
    Seriously how about a bit of courtesy peps. Some time ago we had bumper stickers “Courtesy is Contagious”

    • Jeez, thanks, Steve. The driver was definitely a superior form of something… but person wasn’t what I was thinking at the time. Just yesterday the same thing happened when I was driving down Victoria Pass in the Blue Mountains. Myself and the car behind me had our indicators on, but the car in the overtaking lane next to us refused to hold his position and let us merge on either side of him, with him in the middle. Victoria Pass is a 60km/h zone and this guy ripped down the mountain. There was a line of traffic behind me, so braking to avoid running onto the shoulder was out of the question. So I lifted. The car hoovered beside me as my lane became the shoulder and the guy then accelerated ahead of me… it was almost as if he was waiting for me to end up off the road.
      And, on Friday, my wife told me how she was giving away on a slip lane, as per the road rules, when a woman in the left-hand lane came to a complete stop to let my wife enter the highway… this is not how merging lanes work. And the B-double traveling behind her apparently locked up his truck. The woman began yelling at my wife. Luckily no-one was killed, but this incident and the hundreds like it that happen every day show that overtaking and merging lanes don’t work in this country and that’s mostly because Australian drivers are arrogant… ever driven in Adelaide? Not allowing someone to merge seems to be part of their driving test so well do they block a driver from merging. Rant over – Isaac

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.