The etiquette of overtaking

Unlike other countries where traffic rules are designed for safety, South Africa has made provision for using the shoulder of the road in support of passing or “overtaking” another car.  The following guidelines may help you navigate highways with one lane moving in each direction.

First, I should point out that the stripes separating lanes are almost always white, even when the two lanes are moving in opposite directions.  Do not make the mistake of lingering in a lane for oncoming traffic!  If there’s just one line, and it’s dashed, feel free to borrow that lane when overtaking so long as it is safe.

Sometimes you will have two lines between the two sides of the road.  If the line separating lanes is dashed on your side, it is allowable to cross the line while overtaking (provided, of course, that there is no oncoming traffic).  In this example, cars in A can cross the line while overtaking, but cars in B cannot:


In some cases, you will see a double line like this separating two lanes going in the same direction (such as near an exit on the N1 in Cape Town).  In this case, it is permissible for cars in A to move into the B lane, but not vice versa:
Sometimes you’ll even have three lines between the two sides of the road!  The only time I have seen that happen sandwiched a dashed line between two solid lines.  In this case, cars on neither side of the road can use the other side for overtaking.
When you have multiple lanes going in the same direction, you should expect that slow traffic will be on the left while faster traffic uses the lanes to the right.  Because using a lane to the left of someone to pass them is illegal, it is impolite to use any but the left lane for dawdling.

What happens when you have only one lane going in each direction and traffic on both sides is heavy, though?  In South Africa (during daylight hours), the slower car could perform a maneuver called “yellow line driving.”  Essentially, the driver pulls onto the shoulder (sometimes called the “emergency lane”), allowing a bit more room for a car to pass it on the right in the remainder of the lane.

When the vehicle on the shoulder is a large semi, however, there’s rarely enough room remaining in the lane for passing, and that’s when things can become more complex.  In some cases, the oncoming traffic will also move onto their shoulder, allowing room for three cars to pass abreast on the two-lane highway.  If both sides of the road have people attempting to pass this way, it’s going to get dicey!

When the overtaking car has moved past the slower vehicle, it is customary to say thank you via a few seconds of the faster vehicle’s hazard lights.  It’s nice to see that people can be considerate of each other on the highways!


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