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How-To Guide: Meeting Oncoming Traffic

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Greetings, PassMeFast readers! It’s that time of the month again. We’re back once more with a new instalment in our How-To Guide series. Continuing on with the theme of driving fundamentals, we’re focusing our attention on meeting oncoming traffic—something that you’ll need to safely do day in and day out as a driver.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through who has the right of way on roads and the steps involved in meeting oncoming traffic. We’ve even thrown in a handy video tutorial and an exclusive PassMeFast PDF guide for good measure!


Table of contents

Steps
Know who has right of way
Passing parked vehicles
Exceptions
Additional resources
Video tutorial
PDF guide
FAQs

Steps

Know who has right of way

Before we get into the nitty gritty of meeting oncoming traffic, we’ve first got to run through who has right of way on the road, and who has to give way. This is very important! You need to be aware of who has priority on the road so that you know what action(s) you need to take.

Who has right of way and who needs to give way?

If an obstruction is on your side…

If you’re driving down a road and spot a parked vehicle (or general obstruction) on your side, but notice that the other side of the road is clear, then oncoming traffic will have priority. In this case, you will need to slow down, or come to a stop, to let oncoming traffic pass first. You’ll need to position your vehicle so that oncoming traffic has plenty of room to move.

If an obstruction is on the other side…

If the obstruction is on the other side of the road, then you will have priority. This means that oncoming traffic should stop and let you pass before making a move. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t automatically assume that they will do this. Some drivers are very impatient, so it’s always better to be prepared to stop and give way, just in case.

If obstructions are on both sides

When you end up on a road that has obstructions on both sides, or is narrowed in some way, no-one has priority. It’s entirely down to the discretion of the drivers involved to decide what happens next. This means that you’ll need to proceed with caution—look ahead and gauge who is driving faster. If oncoming traffic will reach the gap before you, then it makes sense to slow down and let them pass first. If you’re going to get there first, then you should proceed.

Now, many drivers will flash their headlights to tell you that you can proceed, but you should be cautious with this. If the other driver hasn’t checked their mirrors, there might be a cyclist waiting to overtake them, which could lead to a serious collision.

Passing parked vehicles

Now you know when you have priority on the road, it’s time to delve into the steps that you should follow when passing parked vehicles and meeting oncoming traffic. The trick, as is the case with most actions on the road, is the MSM routine—otherwise known as, Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre!

① Check for oncoming traffic

Cartoon of car interior and road
  • You need to make sure that the side of the road you intend to steer into is clear before you pass the obstruction on your side of the road.
  • You will need to calmly assess how large the gap is between you and the oncoming traffic and figure out what speed they’re driving at—if they’re slow enough, you might have enough time to proceed. Always play it safe though!
  • If it isn’t clear, you will need to slow down and come to a stop. Now, your positioning here will be important. If you stop too closely to the obstruction, you won’t be able to see around it to look for oncoming traffic.
  • You should stay back two car lengths behind the obstruction to not only make it easier to make your observations, but also so that you can smoothly manoeuvre around the obstruction once you’re good to go.

② Check your mirrors

cartoon picture of rear-view mirror
  • Once you’re sure that the road ahead is clear of oncoming traffic, or that you’ll be able to safely make your move before they arrive, it’s time for you to turn your attention towards the road behind you.
  • It’s important to check your mirrors and blindspots before you move past the obstruction—there might be a driver tailgating you, or a cyclist/motorcyclist attempting to overtake you. Either of these scenarios could be catastrophic!
  • So, check your mirrors and blindspots in a clockwise fashion. Start with your left blindspot, left mirror, interior mirror, right mirror and then, finally, your right blindspot.
  • If it’s not safe to proceed, you’ll need to wait, allow oncoming traffic to pass by, and then start again. If it is safe to proceed, you’ll want to check the road ahead of you again, just in case.

③ Signal if necessary

Cartoon image of arrows pointing left and right
  • Though in most cases you’ll signal when you take action on the road, your indicators aren’t always necessary.
  • Oncoming traffic will see the parked vehicles ahead of you and figure out that you intend to steer into the gap on their side so that you can pass it by. So, they won’t actually benefit from you using your indicators.
  • In fact, if you signal, you might end up confusing them into assuming you intend to turn into a side street or driveway. So, in most cases, you should forgo the indicators entirely.
  • The only real situation in which you might need to use your indicators is when you’re being closely followed by traffic. You don’t want the driver behind you trying to overtake because they think that you’re pulling in. So, in this case, you should signal.

④ Make your move

Car driving around obstruction and meeting oncoming traffic
  • Now it’s time for you to start moving! If you’ve come to a complete stop, you’ll need to switch to first gear and slowly bring up the clutch as you add gas. If you’ve slowed down to reach this point, just make sure you’re in a low gear as you move.
  • Pull the steering wheel to the right and keep a firm grip on it as you steer around the parked vehicle(s) into the other lane. Keep your eyes peeled as you do this, as there might be an unexpected pedestrian or cyclist emerging.
  • The speed at which you drive will vary depending on the situation. If you’re only passing one parked vehicle, you can put your foot down on the gas pedal and build up your speed.
  • If there are multiple parked vehicles, however, you might want to keep it at a low speed to ensure you have complete control over your vehicle. This will also help ensure that oncoming traffic spots you—if you’re going too fast, they might not be able to stop in time.

Exceptions

Though in most cases, the above steps will be more than suitable for passing obstructions and meeting oncoming traffic, it’s not always so cut and dry. You might run into problems if, say, there are obstructions on both sides, or if oncoming traffic attempts to make a move as you’re manoeuvring past an obstruction.

Obstructions on both sides

As mentioned earlier, you might encounter a road with parked vehicles on both sides, which means that no-one has priority. When this happens, you need to quickly assess the situation in front of you, figure out what speed oncoming traffic is driving at, and whether or not they’re likely to stop for you.

If you see signs that oncoming traffic is slowing down for you, you should move into the available gap and continue on your way at a reasonable speed (slowly enough that you’ll be able to stop if you’ve misunderstood the situation). If it doesn’t look like they’re giving way, you should either slow down or come to a complete stop.

Giving way even when you have priority

Though oncoming traffic should give way to you if the obstruction is on their side of the road, don’t assume that they will. Keep your eye on the oncoming traffic and pay attention to their speed. If they’re showing no signs of slowing down, despite the fact that you have priority, you should slow down. If they continue on, your low speed should give you enough time to come to a safe stop.

Pulling in

When you’re dealing with roads that have long rows of parked vehicles on them, you should always keep your eyes peeled for gaps. If you end up meeting oncoming traffic in the middle of manoeuvring around parked vehicles, you’ll be able to pull into one of these gaps to allow traffic to move past you.

Driving on wider roads

On certain roads, there might be enough space for vehicles on both sides of the road to continue on without having to give way, even with obstructions. In these situations, you’ll need to pay close attention to your road positioning—making sure that there’s a big enough gap between you and oncoming traffic. This means that you’ll either have to drive slightly closer to the obstruction (if it’s on your side), or the pavement (if it’s on their side).


Additional resources

Video tutorial

Don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the information and potential scenarios that we’ve discussed. You’ll likely find it much easier to understand once you’re actually behind the wheel, experiencing it first-hand. To give you a rough idea of what you can expect when meeting oncoming traffic, we’ve picked out a handy video tutorial to walk you through it. Enjoy!

PDF guide

As with all of our How-To guides, we’ve created our own exclusive PDF guide on how to pass parked vehicles, so that you can revise all of the steps we’ve discussed on the go! If you’re looking to get ahead of the curve in your lessons, this is the way! Simply give it a read over before you get behind the wheel and you should have all of the knowledge needed to meet oncoming traffic safely.


FAQs

1. What is oncoming traffic?

Still don’t understand what oncoming traffic actually is? Well, the clue is in the name! Oncoming traffic refers to cars, motorcycles, buses, cyclists and various other types of vehicles, that are coming towards you on the road.

2. Who has right of way on a hill?

If you’re driving downhill, you should always give way to the traffic coming uphill when you can. This is because you have far more control over your car going downhill than those coming uphill. In this situation, you would either reverse into a safe spot, or stop so that the other vehicle has enough room to move.

3. Who has right of way on a narrow road?

When it comes to narrow roads, like those in rural areas, it’s usually down to the discretion of the drivers involved to figure out who has priority. This is why it’s so important that you keep your eyes peeled on the road ahead. If you spot oncoming traffic, the first thing you should so is look for a safe place where you can pull in so that they can pass. If you can’t find one, one of you will need to reverse to let the other through.

4. Do I need to indicate when driving around a parked vehicle?

No, not usually. In most cases, traffic around you will know that you’re manoeuvring around a parked vehicle, so they won’t need the warning. However, if you’re having to wait for oncoming traffic suddenly, and you feel like the car behind you might attempt to overtake you because they think you’re stopping, feel free to indicate. Make sure you cancel your indicator once you start moving though!

5. How far away should I drive from parked vehicles?

It’s recommended that you should leave a gap of a car door between you and the parked vehicles that you’re driving past. This is because a driver or passenger might attempt to open a car door. If this happens, the gap should minimise the chances of you colliding with a door.

By Bethany Hall

Whether you’re a learner or a pro driver, Bethany is here to help. From defensive driving to the Highway Code, she’ll tell you everything you need know about driving. If she’s not on the road, you’ll probably find Bethany with her head in a book or binge-watching the latest TV show.

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