Passing on the Right

All states allow drivers to use the left lane to pass a slower moving vehicle, as long as there is more than one lane traveling in the same direction. But have you ever wondered whether – and when – it is permissible to pass a vehicle on the right?

The answer to this question depends upon the state in which you are driving. In most states, it is legal to pass on the right under certain conditions.

In Virginia, a driver is allowed to pass another vehicle on the right:[1]

  1. When the other vehicle is making or is about to make a left turn, and its driver has given the required signal;[2]
  2. On a roadway that is wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles in each direction, as long as the roadway is free from obstructions (such as parked vehicles); and,
  3. On a one-way street that is wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles, as long as the roadway is free from obstructions.

Drivers are not allowed to pass on the right unless they can do so safely. Also, drivers are not allowed to pass on the shoulder of the highway or off the pavement (i.e., off the main traveled portion of the roadway) unless there is a lawfully placed sign that specifically permits passing in these areas.[3]

Passing on the left

Passing on the left is generally considered to be safer than passing on the right because it is more predictable, which means that slower drivers are more likely to anticipate and realize that they are about to be passed. This is especially true on three-lane highways, where it can be difficult for drivers in the center lane to keep track of vehicles to their right and left, especially if those vehicles are weaving in and out of traffic or hanging out in another driver’s “blind spot.” Passing on the left reduces the chance that a driver in the center lane will attempt to change lanes as he or she is being overtaken, which could cause a collision with disastrous consequences.

A driver who violates Virginia law regarding passing on the right can be cited for aggressive driving, which is punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor.[4] If the driver passed on the right with the intent to injure someone, the driver’s aggressive driving charge can be elevated to a Class 1 misdemeanor.[5] A conviction for a Class 2 misdemeanor can result in a $1,000 fine and up to six months of jail.[6] A conviction for a Class 1 misdemeanor can result in a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.

Driving behind slow-moving vehicles

Although it can be frustrating to drive behind a slower-moving vehicle, there are some actions that drivers can take to encourage slower drivers to move out of the way, such as sounding their horn or flashing their lights. In fact, if a driver wants to pass another vehicle, and then signals his intent to do so by sounding the horn or flashing his lights, Virginia law requires the slower-moving vehicle to move to the right (as soon as it is safe do so), and not increase speed until the pass is completed.[7] This is true even if the faster vehicle is speeding. Slower drivers who do not move out of the way, or who attempt to speed up while another vehicle attempts to pass them, can be cited for aggressive driving.

Aggressive driving and tailgating

Although faster vehicles can sound their horn or flash their lights, it is important to note that Virginia law does not allow them to “tailgate” or “ride the bumper” of the slower moving vehicle in front of them. Drivers who do so can be cited for following too closely, which can be considered aggressive driving.[8]

Knowing when and how to pass other vehicles is an important part of driving. Drivers who are aware of other vehicles and know the rules of the road can help to protect themselves and their passengers, reduce the risk of accidents, and stay out of trouble with the law.

About The Author: Ashley Davis is an attorney at Allen & Allen. Her role enables her to serve as a valuable resource to a team of more than 30 trial attorneys. She has more than 10 years of legal experience and currently serves as the Blog Editor for the firm.

[1] Va. Code § 46.2-841(A).

[2] Va. Code § 46.2-841(A)(1); see also Gary v. Artist, 186 Va. 616, 43 S.E.2d 833 (1947) (decided under prior law) (stating that one cannot pass a vehicle making a left turn on the right side unless the turning vehicle gives the required signal).

[3] Va. Code § 46.2-841(B).

[4] Va. Code § 46.2-868.1(A).

[5] Va. Code § 46.2-868.1(B).

[6] Va. Code § 18.2-11(b).

[7] Va. Code § 46.2-842.1.

[8] Va. Code § 46.2-816.