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Criminal Offense of Unsafe Passing

Criminal Offense of Unsafe Passing


Passing another vehicle is an important part of driving; if done poorly, it can be a dangerous and even fatal maneuver. The statutes addressing passing generally require motorists to allow a passing motorist, moving in the same direction, free passage to the left. The overtaken motorist is specifically prohibited from increasing his or her speed to prevent the overtaking motorist from passing.


An overtaking motorist must pass to the left, unless he or she is driving on a roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes in each direction, the overtaken motorist is making or signaling a left turn, or the overtaking motorist is driving upon a one-way street. In any event, the overtaking motorist may only pass when he can do so safely. Accordingly, state vehicle codes specifically prohibit a motorist from passing when approaching or upon a curve or a hill crest restricting the motorist’s view of oncoming traffic, when the motorist is within 100 feet of or crossing any intersection or railroad grade crossing without a traffic control device, when the motorist is within 100 feet of any bridge, elevated structure, or tunnel, and when the motorist is on the shoulder of a multi-lane highway.


In some jurisdictions, the vehicle code may require the operator of an overtaking vehicle to give an audible signal of his or her intention to pass, In that case, the overtaken vehicle must give way to the right on an audible signal. This type of statute does not require the horn on an overtaking vehicle to be sounded when its driver intends to pass a vehicle which is already sufficiently to the right or when the vehicle is passing on the right.


Motor vehicle codes specifically address when and where a motorist may pass interurban electric, street cars, or buses. In addition, motorists may not cross an appropriately marked “No Passing” line in a “No Passing” zone.


This type of offense is generally considered a “summary” offense which can be disposed of without court appearance by the person who is cited for such offenses by paying a fine. Driver demerit points will be assessed, however. When the offense is committed in an area of highway construction or repair, or when committed in a designated safe corridor, the fine is doubled the amount specified by law. The offense of unsafe passing, if combined with another offenses such as speeding, will result in a charge of “reckless” driving, a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both.

Copyright 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.