Step by Step Instructions to Passing

How to Pass Another Vehicle: Step-by-Step Instructions

Updated Nov. 16, 2020

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.

Accurately judging the speed of oncoming vehicles more than 800 feet away is not easy! The number-one rule when passing another vehicle is: ALWAYS play it safe. If you are not completely confident that you have enough space to pass, do not attempt it. In addition to opposing traffic, you must make sure there are no hazards on the road which may stop you from passing safely.

Safety aside, drivers must make sure it is legal to pass another car before doing so. Check for “NO PASSING ZONE” and “DO NOT PASS” signs on the road. You must also learn which pavement markings indicate that passing is prohibited. We discuss passing rules and restrictions in the “illegal passing” section of this guide.

Step-by-step instructions

If you are certain it is safe to pass another vehicle, do so with strict adherence to these step-by-step instructions:

  1. 1

    Check the road ahead for hazards and oncoming vehicles.
    Do not drive close behind the driver you intend to pass while doing this, as it will limit your view. Maintain a safe distance, do not tailgate and do not attempt to pass if there is any opposing traffic less than 800 feet ahead.

  2. 2

    When it is safe to pass, activate your left turn signal to communicate your intention to road users behind you.
    It is not recommended that you use hand signals at highway speeds, as it will limit your control of the vehicle. If your signal lights are not functioning, do not attempt to pass.

  3. 3

    Check behind your vehicle using rear-view and side-view mirrors.
    Turn to check your car’s blind spots.

  4. 4

    If there are no vehicles traveling in either direction which may interfere with you passing, accelerate and move into the adjacent lane.
    In some states, it is a legal requirement to sound your horn to warn the driver in front that you intend to pass. Check your driving manual to find out if this rule applies to you. NEVER use your headlights to signal your intention to pass to the driver ahead of you, as you may blind them and cause an accident.

  5. 5

    Pass the vehicle in the adjacent lane.
    Do not move back into your lane as soon as you have passed them; you need to move a safe distance ahead first.

  6. 6

    You may merge back into your own lane when both headlights of the vehicle you passed are visible in your rear-view mirror.
    This applies to regular-sized passenger vehicles. You must travel further before merging if you have passed a large truck or another heavy-weight vehicle. Where large vehicles are concerned, you must take extra care to make sure you have space, as they will not be able to slow-down suddenly if you pull in front of them too soon.

  7. 7

    Activate your right turn signal to communicate your intention to merge back into your lane.

  8. 8

    Merge back into your lane while maintaining the same speed.
    Do not slow down or brake having re-entered your lane, as you may be rear-ended by the vehicle behind you. Turn off your indicator as soon as you are centered in the lane.

When the vehicle you are passing increases speed

Speeding up while being passed by another driver is incredibly dangerous and illegal in many states. Despite this, some irresponsible drivers have been known to increase their speed to prevent another motorist from passing them. If this happens to you while you are attempting to pass another vehicle, do not panic and do not try and race them. Instead, merge back into your lane without passing. Be sure to signal right as you merge back to your original lane, particularly if there were vehicles behind you that may try to close the gap you created.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 8 votes.

Read next

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.

Parking Restrictions
Parking 2 of 8

Parking Restrictions

Parking is illegal or restricted in many areas. Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on colored curb markings or a “NO PARKING” sign being present in places where parking is prohibited. As a driver, it is your responsibility to learn about parking rules, restrictions and prohibitions and abide by this information at all times.

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.

Making Turns 8 of 9

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.

Making Turns 9 of 9


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.

Passing 1 of 3

Passing Basics

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.