Imagine it’s a beautiful summer day and you are out on the open road comfortably driving at the speed limit. Until, that is, you come up behind a vehicle going 10 or 20km/h slower.

There are no safe opportunities to overtake, so you ease off the accelerator and follow along. ‘What’s the rush? Chill out, enjoy the journey,’ you tell yourself, but after a couple of minutes there is a line of traffic building and frustrations are rising. At last you see a sign to say there is a passing lane ahead and, like a rolling start on a race track, all the drivers behind start edging forward in anticipation.

You reach the passing lane and a line of cars pulls into the right lane only for the vehicle at the front, that had been going well below the limit, to suddenly accelerate. To get past them you really need to put your foot down and that means only a few of the vehicles behind manage to get past. The passing lane ends and the vehicle in the front slows down again. Sound familiar?

It’s a scenario that just about every driver in New Zealand has experienced plenty of times. In our regular surveys of AA Members, some of their biggest annoyances on the roads involve situations where people are wanting to pass. People running red lights is the number one driver frustration but very close behind are slower vehicles speeding up at passing lanes, and people behind you following too closely.

The reality in New Zealand is that most of our state highways are single lane roads. This means when you encounter a vehicle going slower than you, there often isn’t another lane for you to use to go past them. And let’s be clear: the limit is the maximum speed for good driving conditions and it is no crime for people to travel below it. Trucks and vehicles towing are actually required to travel at a maximum of 90km/h, but people may choose to drive slower for a variety of reasons. Maybe they think the conditions aren’t ideal so ease off a bit, maybe they aren’t familiar with the roads or maybe they aren’t experienced drivers. We also have a big mix of vehicles on our highways, from people on bikes, to tractors and combine harvesters.

All of this is why one of the issues the AA will be urging the new government to address is increasing the opportunities for safe passing on our roads. We don’t have the population or money to be able to make every state highway a multi-lane road, but we can identify problem areas and add more passing lanes or bays for slower vehicles to pull left. This will help everyone get where they want with less frustration and risky overtaking. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle, says AA Driving School General Manager Roger Venn. We also need to lift the standard of driving around safe passing.

“Whether you are the person doing the passing or the one going slower, there are things that you can do to better share the road with those around you,” Roger says.

“It’s about being considerate of what’s happening on the road around you and, if you are going to pass, doing it safely and with confidence.”

The AA Driving School has the following advice on what drivers should do to create safer passing on our roads:

When passing a slower vehicle

• Always ask yourself first if you really need to pass.

• Keep a safe following distance between you and the vehicle you want to pass.

• Watch for 'passing lane ahead' signage and start building your speed approaching it so that you begin to pass at the start of the lane.

• Ensure the road is clear for at least 100m and will be clear throughout the manoeuvre.

• If you have to cross onto the other side of the road, ensure there are no oncoming vehicles.

• Look behind you to ensure no one else is already passing.

• If you have any doubt or think there could be a risk, hold off and wait for a safe passing opportunity.

• Signal for at least three seconds, check your mirrors, blind spot and ahead again before changing lane position.

• Check your mirrors to ensure you have safely passed, signal, and move back in. When you have faster vehicles behind you

• Drive in the left-hand lane unless you are passing.

• When you get to a passing lane move left, do not speed up.

• If there is no left-hand lane, look for a safe place to pull over. Stay as far left as possible and allow the faster vehicle to pass before moving back into the road.

If there is one standout that causes drivers’ mental oil to boil, it is when a slower vehicle speeds up at a passing lane then slows back down when it ends. The AA has had plenty of complaints from Members about this over the years, and while it can feel at the time like it is being done on purpose, research indicates it is often unintentional. The wider a road is, the more comfortable drivers subconsciously feel and this tends to lead to speeds creeping up, even without people meaning to.

If we go back to the example from the start of this article, a few simple changes can turn a frustrating and potentially dangerous driving experience into a safe and pleasant one.

Imagine this time that when you come up behind that slower vehicle, there is a slow-vehicle bay or passing lane not far ahead. Knowing this, the people behind are happy to hang back and wait until the slower vehicle pulls left, keeps their speed down, and lets all the other traffic easily go past.  Saving a bit of time is never worth risking a crash for. If every driver keeps safe passing in mind, it will make for a great summer on the roads.

Reported by Dylan Thomsen for our AA Directions Summer 2017 issue

More information

AA Driving School  can help with on-road training and practice if you aren’t that confident in passing situations. Call 0800 223 748

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