Passing Basics

The Basics of Safe Passing: Nailing Your Driving Test Maneuvers

Updated Nov. 20, 2020

Passing another vehicle immediately puts you and every road user around you at risk, no matter how safely you execute the maneuver. Passing-related collisions are often high-speed and head-on, which sadly means they are usually fatal.

All drivers must learn how and where they should pass other vehicles, in addition to situations in which passing is forbidden. Having acquired the skills and knowledge to pass other drivers safely, you should then endeavor to avoid passing wherever possible. It will always be dangerous, even under optimum conditions. Before attempting to pass another vehicle, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it legal to pass?
  • Is it safe to pass?
  • Is it worth the risk?

Nobody likes getting stuck behind a slow driver, but it beats being involved in a catastrophic collision.

Passing other vehicles - step-by-step

Below is a summary of the steps you must take to pass another driver safely. A more detailed break-down of a proper passing procedure can be found in our step-by-step passing guide. That article contains in-depth descriptions and pictures illustrating each stage of the maneuver.

  1. 1

    Confirm that it is both safe and legal to pass on this stretch of road. Check that you have enough space to complete the maneuver.

  2. 2

    Activate your turn indicator. Check your mirrors and turn to check your blind spots.

  3. 3

    Accelerate and merge into the adjacent lane.

  4. 4

    When you can see both headlights of the vehicle you have just passed in the rear-view mirror, signal and merge back into your lane.

  5. 5

    Maintain your speed and switch off your turn signal.

Places where passing is illegal or restricted

If passing another vehicle is illegal, it is usually because attempting to pass would be extremely dangerous. Whether passing is legal should be your first consideration. It is essential to learn the general rules regarding illegal passing, as there will not always be signs or road markings to guide you. While there may be further circumstances under which passing is prohibited in your state, it is always illegal when:

  • You are within 100 feet of a bridge, tunnel, intersection or viaduct
  • You are within 100 feet of a railway crossing
  • You are approaching a hill or a curve in the road
  • You are on the right shoulder of a highway
  • A “DO NOT PASS” or “NO PASSING ZONE” sign is present

This list is not exhaustive, as there are many other situations in which passing is illegal across the United States. A more detailed list (complete with full explanations and images) is available on another page. If you are working through our entire course, that information will come up later. As always, spend some time with your state’s driver manual to make certain there are no local passing restrictions you need to consider.

Other passing restrictions

Drivers must use additional caution when attempting to pass a motorcyclist or cyclist. It is your responsibility to drive carefully around these road users, as their smaller, open vehicles leave them at great risk of injury. It is important that you do not drive too closely behind a cyclist or motorcyclist. Many state driving manuals set the minimum safe distance to pass these road users at four feet. Passing closer than this could cause the cyclist or motorcyclist to lose control of their vehicle and crash.

Passing other vehicles on mountain roads is dangerous and very often illegal. Well-maintained mountain roads usually feature signposts and road markings making it clear that passing is prohibited. This is unlikely to be the case in more remote areas, so passing in these circumstances is not recommended. If you are confident you may legally pass on a mountain road, exercise more caution and allow yourself more time than you would in other situations. You will have gravity to contend with if traveling uphill, plus your vehicle’s performance will be sub-standard at high altitudes.

Being passed by another vehicle

When you can see that another driver is trying to pass you, do not change direction, increase your speed or brake suddenly. The driver of the passing vehicle is relying on you maintaining your current speed and course to complete the maneuver safely. Maintain your speed until the passing vehicle has merged back into your lane.

Speeding up when another motorist is trying to pass you is incredibly dangerous, as you will cut-back the time they have to complete the pass. In most states, increasing speed while being passed is illegal.

Passing on the right

Passing another vehicle on the left is usually the safest option. In fact, most states forbid drivers to pass on the right-hand side. There are a few situations in which passing on the right may be permitted. Be sure to consult your state’s driving manual for location-specific information, in addition to considering the list of permitted circumstances below:


  • If there are two or more lanes of traffic traveling in your direction, you may pass on the right if your target vehicle is in the left-hand lane. Only pass when you are certain the driver is not preparing to merge into your lane.
  • You may sometimes pass on the right if the driver ahead of you is making a left turn. This depends on there being enough room for you to pass on the right, without any part of your vehicle going off the side of the road.

Extra caution is always required when passing on the right, as most road users will not expect it. Watch out for other vehicles merging in front of you from the right.

Passing lanes

You will encounter dedicated passing lanes on some two-lane highways. The general rule is that faster-moving traffic should occupy lanes to the left, while slower-moving traffic should keep right. Stretches of highway that use passing lanes will usually have “SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT” signs to guide you. If there is a line of traffic behind you as you approach a passing lane, merge into the right-hand lane to let them pass.

Often, the furthest left lane of a three-lane highway is reserved for passing only. Many states have a “keep right” law that prohibits drivers from traveling in the far left lane unless they are passing another vehicle. When using the left lane to overtake, check for motorists approaching from behind before merging and merge back to the right once the maneuver is complete.

Road pavement markings

Check the pavement markings if you are not certain whether passing is permitted. If either of the below pavement markings is present, passing is permitted unless signs or other rules suggest otherwise.

  • A broken yellow line, separating opposing lanes of traffic
  • Two adjacent yellow lines separating opposing lanes of traffic, one of which is broken

You must NEVER attempt to pass another vehicle if it means crossing two solid, yellow lines. We explore pavement markings fully - complete with photographs and pictures - in another article. Make sure you are totally up-to-speed with road markings before attempting the permit test, as they will feature prominently on the assessment.

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Step by Step Instructions to Passing
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Passing: Step-by-Step

When learning to pass another vehicle, the most important skill that new drivers must develop is accurately judging whether there is enough space to pass safely. Overestimating how much room you have could cause a serious collision. When passing at highway speeds, drivers need a 10 to 12 second gap in opposing traffic to execute the maneuver safely. During this gap, you will travel approximately 800 feet, or one third of a mile.

Situations When Passing Is Illegal
Passing 3 of 3

Illegal Passing

Qualified drivers must keep up-to-date with passing rules and restrictions, as making an illegal pass could earn you a ticket and create a dangerous driving situation. Do not pass another vehicle when your view is limited by a hill, a curve or unfavorable weather conditions. Passing close to intersections, bridges, railroad crossings or school zones is also illegal.

Parking Your Car Like A Pro
Parking 1 of 8


When learning to drive, you must learn how to angle park, perpendicular park and parallel park. The latter of these three techniques – along with parking on a hill – is almost guaranteed to come up during your practical driving exam. Attempting to park becomes dangerous if you fail to think ahead or allow yourself to get stressed-out by other drivers.

Making Turns 4 of 9

Making a Right Turn

While all course changes require knowledge and skill, making a right turn is easier, safer and more straight-forward than making a left turn. When turning right you do not need to worry about traffic traveling in the opposite direction from the road you are entering, which makes things a whole lot simpler. In some areas you can even turn right against a red traffic signal

Making Turns 5 of 9

Making a Left Turn

Turning left is riskier and demands more caution than turning right, because the turn will take you across the path of traffic which is traveling toward you, from the opposite direction. Be sure to signal your intention to turn left as early as possible, while observing any right-of-way laws that are relevant to your situation. Drivers must also take particular care when turning left onto a street from an alley or driveway and learn how to use a center left turn lane.

Making Turns 6 of 9

Center Turn Lane

Center left turn lanes are also referred to as two-way left turn lanes. These lanes are designed to improve the flow of traffic at busy intersections, by allowing drivers to safely turn left without interfering with motorists traveling straight on. You may use the two-way left turn lane when turning left onto the roadway from an alley or driveway.

Making Turns 7 of 9

Two Point Turns

When the roadway is not wide enough to make a U-turn, drivers can use a two-point turn to change direction. This will usually only be possible on quiet suburban streets, when there is an available driveway on the left or right side of the road to facilitate the turn. Two-point turns using driveways on the left are more dangerous, as the driver must reverse the vehicle into a traffic lane.

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Three Point Turn

Three-point turns are more complex than two-point turns and U-turns. You must know how to execute a safe three-point turn, as they are a standard point of assessment on practical driving tests state-wide. If you need to reverse your direction of travel on a street that is too narrow for a U-turn and has no driveways to allow a two-point turn, making a three-point turn will be your only option.

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Making a U-turn is the quickest and easiest way to turn your vehicle around should you need to reverse your direction of travel. This may happen if you find you are traveling in the wrong direction or if you accidentally over-shoot your destination.