Is It Illegal To Pass On The Right?

When you’ve been driving for a couple of years, all of the rules and regulations that govern the safe operation of a vehicle start to become second nature.

You don’t have to overthink a situation, you just react to the conditions of the road and know what to do, and when to do it instinctively.

Driving at, or just under the speed limit becomes habitual, the route that you take to work and home again becomes a matter of course and the longer journeys become easier and easier the more often you make them, 

Is It Illegal To Pass On The Right

Driving becomes a part of the daily rituals that govern all of our lives, and we slide into and follow them without question.

And one of the rules that become so ingrained in our psyche that we never question it, is that you always, without fail pass another vehicle on the left.

Given that irrefutable motoring truth, the legality of passing on the right shouldn’t even be a question, as it must be illegal.

While that’s a fairly safe assumption to make, it isn’t quite that simple, and there are exceptions to the rule that make it legal to pass on the right, and as such we’re going to talk about when it is and isn’t legal to pass on the right. 

State Law

Generally speaking, vehicular and motoring codes and laws can vary from state to state, and what might be legal in one state might be frowned upon, or even considered to be illegal in another.

That’s one of the main reasons why it’s important to be aware of your home state’s laws governing the use of a motor vehicle and those of any other state that you're planning to drive in, or through.  

But there are exceptions to those state laws, and it is legal to pass on the right in three situations that we will all, undoubtedly find ourselves in at one time or another.

Turning Left

The most obvious exception to the rule governing passing on the right is when you’re faced with absolutely no alternative but to pass the car that’s in front of you by overtaking it on the right.

That is, of course, if the vehicle in front of you has slowed down and is attempting to make a left turn, and the right lane is clear and you can pull into it without interfering or disrupting the flow of traffic around you. 

Obviously, this is one of those situations that most of us are already aware of, and while we might have previously questioned its legality while overtaking the vehicle in front, when the car in front of you slows down and its left blinker goes on, it is perfectly legal to pass it on the right as the assumption that you and any other would quite rightly make is that said car is about to turn left, and the only way to get around it, is by passing it (legally) on the right.

The Fog Line Exception

This is where things get a little more complicated so we thought that we’d start with the easiest rule, before heading into the most difficult and then finish on the last straightforward and easy-to-understand passing on the right rule.  

The fog line exception relies on following the law that governs overtaking to the letter without breaking or contravening it.

The law that controls when it is and isn’t safe to pass on the right states that “such movement shall not be made by passing off the roadway” and as the roadway is determined by the fog line (which separates the legally drivable part of the road from the part that it isn’t legal to drive on), it’s accurate to assume that any fog line controls the width of the road and if you have to cross said fog line, then it isn’t legal to pass the vehicle in front of you.

However, if there isn't a fog line on the road, it’s safe to assume the width of the roadway is the entire road.

This means that, if the car in front of you is moving much slower than you are and you have the room on the right to safely pass it and there is nothing blocking or preventing you from doing so, then you can legally use the entire width of the roadway to pass the car in front of you on the right.

Strictly speaking, it’s a technicality, but it’s a legal one that you can use, providing you do so safely and there really is no fog line present, to pass the car in front of you on the right. 

Heading Out On The Highway

The third and final exception to no passing on the right rule is one that, again, we’ve all stumbled across at one time or another while driving down the highway; the slow driver in the left-hand lane who refuses to pull over.

In some states, it’s legal to flash your headlights at a driver in the left lane who is traveling slower than the traffic behind them in order to get them to pull over and let every car behind them pass, but in other states, it isn’t quite as legal to repeatedly signal the car in front of you with your headlight, regardless of how fast or slow they’re going. 

That said if the car in the left lane is traveling at a much lower rate of speed than the cars behind it and the right lane is clear, in order to ensure that traffic flows freely and that the highway doesn’t become congested or suffer from tailbacks because of one driver, it is legal to pass that car using the right-hand lane, providing as we’ve already mentioned that the right-hand lane is clear and that by moving into it you don’t impede the progress of any other motorist, become a danger to any other vehicle on the highway or slow the movement of traffic down. 

The Exceptions To The Rule

While the legality of two of the exceptions is beyond question and shouldn’t, under any circumstances result in you being awarded with a ticket for a traffic violation, the fog line rule isn’t so clear cut and does rely heavily on the legal interpretation of the wording that allows you to pass on the right.

But, if you do end up with a ticket while using the fog line exception to pass on the right, you can still argue your case in traffic court, and the presiding judge will almost certainly agree with you.

Because in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the letter of the law and how it is rightly interpreted is everything.