Is It Illegal to Pass Drivers on a Highway?

The auto industry has made it a priority to promote car safety. Advanced systems and improved technology make it easier than ever to stay safe while driving on busy highways.

However, drivers still need to do their part in understanding state traffic laws and knowing what is considered legal on local roadways. Illegal maneuvers can result in hefty fines that are avoidable if you adhere to safe driving practices. Furthermore, what many people think of as driving laws often can be best practices of common courtesy (and vice versa). It may surprise some drivers to learn that, in certain conditions, passing another vehicle on a highway is considered illegal.

Why drivers pass one another on the highway

Cars passing a highway traffic safety sign in Glasgow, Scotland
Cars passing a highway traffic sign | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Image

Driving takes skill, patience, and focused attention. All of us have been there, stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle or unnerved by a distracted driver not paying attention to the road. Human nature makes us want to get away from that driver, especially when in a hurry, and our first instinct is to pass the vehicle.

However, Drivers Education USA points out, “Any time you make traffic maneuvers such as changing lanes or passing other vehicles, you are creating a risk for yourself and others on the road.”

Never try to pass someone when driving in these conditions

According to the website DriversEd, passing another vehicle is unsafe and illegal when “your line-of-sight is restricted or limited by a curve, hill, or weather conditions.”

A solid yellow line on the roadway is a clear indication that you should not pass another vehicle. A dotted line on your lane of traffic indicates it is safe for passing. Regardless of the road markings, never try to get around another driver if you can’t safely complete the move before reaching a no-passing zone.

While driving in congested traffic, never attempt to overtake a long line of cars. Never try to pass an emergency vehicle, a funeral procession, or a school bus unloading children. Also, avoid passing in cross-traffic or when a driver in front of you has on their turn signal or brake lights to indicate stopping. Finally, never try to get around a vehicle driving at or near the posted speed limit.

In South Carolina, the Move Right Law is cracking down on drivers that are not passing other vehicles safely and according to state laws. According to local Fox News affiliate WACH, The new law requires drivers “to only use the far left lane on controlled-access highways when passing other vehicles.”

Drivers that violate the new law may incur a fine of up to $25 from The Department of Public Safety.  Signs that read “State Law: Slower Traffic Move Right” are now posted on South Carolina highways.

When is it acceptable to pass someone?

Sometimes passing makes perfect sense. When a driver is going below the minimum speed limit and slower than the natural traffic flow, it is best to pass that car.

Keep in mind that it is only safe to pass another vehicle when road signs and markings indicate it is legal. Consider current traffic and weather conditions before attempting to pass. Also, be sure there are no oncoming vehicles that can impede your maneuver. As long as you have enough time and space to pass another car, you are within the legal limits.

NOLO explains that most states have “rules for passing laws when there are multiple lanes going in the same direction, rules for passing vehicles when you must cross into an oncoming traffic lane to make the pass, and rules that prohibit passing altogether.” Understanding these laws will not only improve your driving but keep those you share the roadway with safe.

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