How to deal with overtaking lorries on motorways

blindspot_graphic_700On a recent M40 journey I watched an overseas lorry in front of me pull into the centre lane of the motorway at the same time as a young driver in a Golf was overtaking it, whilst already in the centre lane. The car was lightly side-swiped; luckily the lorry driver reacted in time and the VW driver held his course but it was a VERY close run thing. I overtook both then pulled into the next service station expecting the VW driver to do the same, when I could have helped him check the car for any damage and confirm that this wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t.

So today’s driving advice from the IAM is a useful reminder that overseas drivers mightn’t be able to see us. I’m not saying that it’s good enough to accept things as they are (surely trucks should be designed with visibility in mind/they should have more/better mirrors to give them that overtaking confidence/vision?) but with advance knowledge of this and some careful planning, motorway driving and how you deal with overtaking lorries needn’t be the problem we might otherwise envisage.

Here are some tips from the IAM that I recommend you take the time to read and consider…

1/ Be aware that all lorries based within the EU are restricted to driving at 56mph so their speed is relatively predictable.

2/ If you are driving at 50mph in a lane to the right of a truck, bear in mind that the driver may need to keep to a tight delivery schedule and want to drive at 56mph. So don’t hang about or sit there.

3/ Be VERY careful when overtaking left-hand-drive lorries on UK roads as they will have very little visibility of you to their right ie where you are. Their blind spot can be quite big so again, don’t hang about and keep your wits about you throughout the manouevre.

4/ One of the ways to identify a foreign truck is if the registration plate of a lorry ahead of you is anything other than our familiar amber-coloured UK plate. Another way is to look at the pattern of mirrors on a lorry – left-hand-drive lorries will usually have a mirror pointing downwards on the right-hand side which means you can identify them more easily (UK trucks have this mirror on the left for obvious reasons.)

5/ If you can, try to see the driver’s face before you overtake them. If you cannot see it, chances are the driver will be unable to see you either.

6/ Where you can (and I am sure the Golf driver I saw on the M40 will do this for a long while), you should allow an additional lane when passing lorries (eg. go into the third lane and not just the second lane.) This means you will be less likely to be “side swiped” by a truck driver who didn’t see you. Trucks tend to create a lot of wind effect in front of and behind them causing passing vehicles to be blown around and this avoids that problem as well.

7/ Avoid making last minute manoeuvres and leave plenty of room between you and the lorry. Remember, trucks cannot react in the same way as a car can – give them space.

8/ Finally, always drive to anticipate the reactions of other motorists. If it’s taken a lorry driver ages to get up to 56mph and they are gaining on a lorry doing less they will want to overtake – I’ve seen many pull out leaving the bare minimum space between them and the next vehicle. But perhaps the vehicle behind should have seen this coming…

In short, learn to expect the unexpected when driving on motorways – this works wonders for concentration levels.

Let’s end with some wise advice from IAM’s Head of Driver Standards Peter Rodger:

“There is no reason why dealing with lorries should be a cause for worry. What would make matters a lot easier for everyone is allowing space and time for the truck driver to react and do their thing. They will appreciate it if you show them this courtesy, and make your motorway journey a far sweeter experience. Happy motoring!”