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Ask an Instructor - send us your questions

Whether you are learner driver or an experienced motorist, you can email any driving-related question to info@wycombedrivingschool.co.uk and you will receive a personal response from Wycombe Driving School boss Audrey Wixon, pictured. The best questions and answers will be published on this website anonymously.

Audrey is a DSA ADI; DIAmond, IAM and RoSPA Gold Advanced Driver; Fleet Trainer; Observer for Institute of Advanced Motorists; & National Standard cycling instructor

Audrey Wixon - manager of Wycombe Driving School
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How do you know when it is safe to overtake?

Q: I get stuck in queues on country roads because I'm too scared to overtake when there is a slow vehicle in front of me. Got any tips?

a car overtaking A: The key to overtaking safely is in how well you observe the road ahead. You must make sure there is enough room to tuck back in again safely so, like a pilot, don't take off unless you know where you are going to land.

Check the road long way ahead and only go for it if you are certain the situation will not change while you are overtaking. If the road is straight, drop right back until you can see well past the vehicle in front. If the road is bendy you may need to shift left or right for a better view. Remember there could be a smaller vehicle hidden in front of the one you are following.

Look for anything that might make the overtake unsafe – such as the presence of side roads. How many times have you seen people start to turn left out of a side road on your right while they are looking the other way? If you are overtaking when someone does that, there’s going to be a nasty crash. Or perhaps the vehicle you are passing may turn right into the side road – this is a common cause of overtaking accidents. Also check the road surface for markings that would make overtaking illegal, such as double white lines down the middle, and for puddles etc that might cause the driver in front change course. Look for road signs too, such as a speed limit change ahead.

If it all looks good, you should then check your mirrors (is someone else about to overtake you?), signal right, select a lower gear if you need to overtake swiftly and close the gap between you and the target car until you have just enough space between you to be able to stop in an emergency. At this point move out to the right of the target car, but still stay behind it, and hold this position, matching their speed, while you have a good clear look at the road ahead.

If the situation does not look safe, then you can abort the manoeuvre and simply side step back behind the target car without any braking or fuss. If everything looks ok, speed up and overtake. Once you can see the front of the car you have just passed in your rear view mirror, steady the gas and steer back in.

Overtaking a moving vehicle is one of the most dangerous things you can do as a driver. If you mess it up you could be facing a head on collision, so always ask yourself if it is really worth the risk. If the driver in front is travelling only slightly slower than you want to, it’s not worth it. If you are approaching a situation where there will be traffic hold ups anyway, such as a town centre, it's not worth it. Show some patience if you are about to turn off soon or you're approaching a road where overtaking would be safer, such as a dual carriageway. Restraint is a life saving attribute - and the mark of a good driver.
Audrey Wixon
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Wycombe Driving School - for driving lessons in High Wycombe and surrounding areas - including Amersham, Beaconsfield, Marlow, Hazlemere, Stokenchurch and Princes Risborough. We offer successful, structured driving lessons, providing free theory test software and lesson handouts. Male and female driving instructors are available, providing both manual and automatic driving lessons.