Does passing on the right produce rear-end crashes?

The in basket: Debra Ledeaux writes that she had to abort a left turn she was planning to make from Bond Road onto Pugh Road in North Kitsap when the car behind her passed her on the right and the driver behind it didn’t apparently didn’t see her and skidded toward her.
She wonders if such passes on the right are legal. “I’ve seen
sheriff cars, Access buses, school buses and even 18-wheelers pass like that and it just doesn’t seem legal,” she said.

The in basket: Debra Ledeaux writes that she had to abort a left turn she was planning to make from Bond Road onto Pugh Road in North Kitsap when the car behind her passed her on the right and the driver behind it didn’t apparently didn’t see her and skidded toward her.
She wonders if such passes on the right are legal. “I’ve seen
sheriff cars, Access buses, school buses and even 18-wheelers pass like that and it just doesn’t seem legal,” she said.
The out basket: Passing on the right is not legal if any part of your car crosses the white edge line. As Debra suggests, it’s a commonly ignored law, and I confess to passing on the right, crossing the edge stripe, at low speed when a car is stopped ahead of me to turn left.
Doing it without slowing down can create a tragedy involving a pedestrian, bicyclist or parked car on the shoulder. I think it should be made legal at, say, 10 miles per hour. But for now, it’s a citable offense.
I’m more intrigued by the notion that the second car in line might crash into a stopped car ahead when the car between them swerves right to pass. It doesn’t make sense to me, but others have suggested that it is a hazard.
If a driver has to hit the binders to avoid the stopped car, what chance would he have of not crashing into the second car if it had stopped, too, rather than pulling around to pass. It would be one car length closer.
Further. whenever a car ahead of me swerves right or left, I slow down until I find out why.
I asked Debra this and she attributed it to “following the leader syndrome” and the absence of brake lights.
“If a person suddenly passes to the right at the last minute without braking,” she said, “the person behind doesn’t have a chance to stop and must follow the first car around on the shoulder also.  We all seem to trust the driver in front to be our eyes out there, if they brake we brake, etc.
“Even Hollywood uses this law of physics… wait till the last minute and make a sudden move so the car, or space craft in Independence Day, or torpedo chasing a submarine in Hunt for Red October can’t react in time to avoid a crash,” she said.
Weigh in on this, readers, via the Road Warrior blog at, or the old-fashioned way, e-mail or phone. Is this something you’ve experienced?

10 thoughts on “Does passing on the right produce rear-end crashes?

  1. Well, I got stopped for doing this once. I told the officer I never knew it was illegal. He said most people do not and let me go, thank goodness. The irony is that many times this happens when someone is stopped in the middle of a 55 mph highway (like 305, for example) trying to cross a double yellow line, which is ALSO illegal and is the initial cause of the problem.
    (Editor: Turning left across a double yellow line is not illegal. Passing other vehicles across a double yellow line is.)

  2. “Follow the leader?” Probably not quite. Had the car in front, (#2) which did the right-side pass, had slowed and stopped, the third car would have had sufficient time for a safe stop. The difference being that it would not have been faced with a sudden obstruction, but one happening gradually.

  3. This happens all the time it seems. I know it is not legal and I have never done this. But there are many on Bond Road that do this. When going to work and taking a left onto Minder many times drivers will pass me on the right, which is very dangerous, considering there is a business park across from where I am turning. Many times a car is turning into this business park as I am trying to turn onto Minder to Kennedy Business Park. It is time for drivers to stop doing this, as it can cause a very serious accident.

  4. I often pass on the right when the car ahead of me is stopped or slowing for a left turn… IF the lane is clear.

    What doesn’t seen right is being cited for hitting the car ahead of you when that car jumped out of a side road right in front. I’ve been lucky with good brakes.
    Nine times out of ten nobody was behind me and that driver could well have waited until I’d passed.

    Maybe thick shrubbery obscured the drivers view… such occurrences are accidents waiting to happen.

  5. This phenomenon of “follow the leader” is not limited to situations of people passing on the right. It also comes into play when people slow to a near stop using the compression of their car engines to break their speed rather than their brakes (no brake lights) or when traffic is heavy and moving slow, which is a situation in which people tend to follow too closely because they are moving slow, such as the traffic slowdowns on I-5 or SR 16.
    I have had several people pass me on the right, in a variety of situations and they always cross the white (fog) line in doing so or would have if the line was painted on the road.
    I did it once coming down the road from Silverdale headed for Gorst, and was warned (thankfully) that it was against the law. I did not do it at an intersection where there could have been other traffic or pedestrians involved, but the law is the law. The lack of safety present when others have passed me on the right has made me leary of trying it because of the possibilities.

  6. I don’t trust brake lights or turn signals of the car ahead of me. I would tend to trust arm signals because that is a deliberate act before a turn. Too often brake lights can fail and the driver won’t know it.
    Often enough, drivers change their mind about a planned right or left turn and with blinkers still flashing a turn, keep going straight.
    I watch the cars ahead of the car in front of me and too often it seems they’re following too closely.

    I drive defensively. Brake lights, turn signals can all fail but if we allow enough room between us and the car ahead, we have time to react. It is up to us to know where traffic is around us…the reason we have mirrors.
    A mirror can alert us to the occasional pudding head coming up behind recklessly darting in and out of traffic to gain a few feet…they’re accidents waiting to happen.

    If another driver does the unexpected, we need room to maneuver.

  7. Regarding your article about passing on the right being dangerous. I have had the opposite experience. When I stopped for the person in front of me who was making a left hand turn, rather than going around them on the right, I was nearly rear-ended. Seems like the person behind me was expecting me to go around. In either case, my guess is the person was traveling too fast and too close.

  8. As to the danger or risk of rear-end collision in these situations, I do think there is a significant increased risk. The reason is that as we follow a leading vehicle, we allow some following distance whether sufficient or not. Each additional vehicle behind also has some distance. But when the lead car slows to make a left turn, and comes to a stop possibly waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, the next car usually closes their following distance knowing they intend to veer right and go around the left turner, often without slowing at all.
    The risk comes with each subsequent vehicle. If not watching the action several cars ahead and just “following the leader” a driver will get the surprise of a stopped car directly in front of them.
    This is not the same as if the car they were following just slammed on the brakes. In that case, the leading car would continue to move forward some distance due to momentum or inertia. But the revealed left turner may be near stopped, and reaction time as well as the decision-making ability and skill level of following drivers can be quite hazardous.
    I think a great number of drivers do pass on the right in such situations. I confess I have done the same. There are numerous manuvers we see other drivers do that are not legal but may or may not cause a hazard (such as those who pull across the opposite lane to grab mail out of their mailbox in rural areas). This matter is probably best left on an individual decision basis. If someone makes a bad choice, we have legal guidance and protection. For those who exercise good judgment and care, good luck!

  9. There is a good reason passing on the right is illegal. It is incredibly
    dangerous. The car in front may be stopped for a pedestrian that may not be
    visible to cars behind the stopped car. The pedestrian could easily step
    into the path of a vehicle passing on the right, even one that is only going
    10 miles per hour. The same is true of an oncoming car that is turning left.
    I have seen several accidents where an oncoming car turning left was hit by
    someone passing on the right, especially in Bellevue and Redmond.

    I also sometimes see cars passing a whole line of stopped vehicles on the
    right. When the car in front starts moving again the impatient guy passing
    on the right cuts in line. He could hit someone who does not know
    that someone is passing him illegally on the right. You simply do not expect
    cars to be using the sidewalk or the weeds to pass you. I have nearly been
    hit several times by cars trying to merge back onto the road. I have also
    seen drivers get into a race with traffic on the shoulder to keep people
    from cutting in line.

    A car can be following another car at enough distance to avoid the car he is
    following if it stops normally, but not far enough to avoid an obstacle that
    the car in front swerves to avoid. This is called “blind-gating.” It is
    dangerous not only where people are passing on the right, but anywhere on
    the road. A car might swerve to avoid an old tire, dropped trash, or even a
    child, but the following car will not be able to avoid the obstacle. It is a
    common cause of accidents.

    Personally, I think the laws against passing on the right should be strictly
    enforced. I have little patience for impatient drivers. 🙂

  10. We access SR104 about a mile west of Kingston where there is a ferry holding lane. This makes a very wide shoulder and a very narrow lane. Many people use this as a passing lane.
    When I am turning left into our driveway I stay next to the white line. Some reasons are to discourage passing, get people to slow down when they pass on the right and to be farther from oncoming traffic if and when I do get rearended. The first two reasons have some effect.
    I’ve had people pass without slowing down (50 mph limit). I have discussed this with patrolmen from city, county and state. All of them told me they write tickets for passing on the right every day.
    I agree with those that believe that passing on the right can cause someone following them to rear-end the stopped car. They may be talking on cell phone or text messaging etc. which has been proven to be equivalent to DUI.

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