Passing You Basics

Last Edited: July 18, 2019 // by TruckerScape, Inc.

To help you and other drivers when I’m preparing to change lanes or exit a highway or interstate, I can usually signal a long enough time to give adequate notice.  On multi-lane highways and interstates, I often signal then hesitate to let drivers close behind me pass before I pass another vehicle.  When they see my signal, some personal vehicle drivers behind me actually speed up to get by before I swing into the passing lane.  They remind me of a bull charging a matador’s cape.  Unfortunately I can’t wait for every driver behind me to get by before I pass.  In spite of my best efforts to accommodate as many as safe and practical, there is still the occasional driver who feels I have cut him off unnecessarily and honks or gestures angrily as he passes me.

In his defense, my truck’s speed restriction can be an irritant to drivers behind me when I am passing another vehicle traveling at a slightly slower speed.  My truck has a very small “pedal override” activated by depressing the fuel pedal that enables me to nudge my truck past the other vehicle at just slightly faster than cruising speed.  The passing process can seem agonizingly slow, both to me and other drivers behind me.  This is probably the situation that most severely tries the patience of other drivers.  Still, most are understanding and patient, which I appreciate.  I do welcome all the help I can get.

When passing a vehicle on the left on interstates and other major highways and on two-lane highways, I work to provide an extra safety margin between my truck and the other vehicle by crowding the left shoulder.

On interstates I have to be especially careful in finishing a pass on the left when I have vehicles close behind my truck waiting to pass me.  At my truck’s cruising speed, I prefer to get a little more than a truck length ahead of the vehicle I am passing before moving back into that vehicle’s lane.  This distance is approximately the minimum distance I advise for your personal vehicle following my truck.  It equals the distance our vehicles are traveling in one second.  At 60 mph (miles per hour), the distance is approximately 90 feet or approximately 6 compact-size 14 1/2-foot car lengths.  The purpose of not waiting until I’ve reached the preferred 2 second practical minimum lead threshold is to try to prevent impatient personal vehicle drivers behind my truck from “jumping” me (swinging into your lane in front of you and cutting me off before I can return to your lane).

The safer practical minimum distance in front of your vehicle is 2 seconds of travel at 60 mph, which equals 180 feet (rounded up) or approximately 12 compact-size car lengths or approximately 2 1/2 big rig truck lengths.  This lead threshold is arbitrary, not government-mandated.  It is my way of estimating a minimal time window for you to recognize and respond to any sudden action I may take.  If there are no vehicles close behind me when I pass you, I will allow at least this lead threshold between us before returning to your lane.

Truck drivers I’ve passed often blink me over (signal me with their lights to move back into their lane) before I’ve reached the lead threshold.  This practice is more customary in the East’s heavier traffic and closer spacing in front of and behind vehicles.  Shorter passing clearances in the East are facilitated by speeds that are generally slower than speeds on the open highways of the West.  Blinking is especially helpful at night or other dim visibility conditions when our mirrored depth perception is diminished.  It has seemed to me lately that more personal vehicle drivers are also blinking me over.  I blink back as a “thank you.”  Regardless of my passing clearance, I pull away from trucks and personal vehicles as soon as possible.  Per the Passing Me Basics, the Risk Zone:  Close and Directly Behind My Truck and the Risk Zone:  Close and Directly in Front of My Truck tips, I don’t want to settle close in front of any vehicle I’ve just passed.

NOTE:  In bad weather and/or road conditions I allow greater following and passing clearances (see the Passing You in Bad Weather and/or Bad Road Conditions tip).

When I am passing you on your left starting from the right lane behind you, I may have to encroach into your lead threshold ahead of my truck. This can happen when I am travelling only slightly faster than you (5 mph or less) and there is other traffic behind me.  I may need to pull closer to you, while signaling for a lane change and letting faster vehicles close behind pass me first.  Then when my truck is about one truck length from your vehicle’s rear, I will change to the lane left of you.  This is to try to prevent other personal vehicle drivers behind me from dangerously passing me on the right and then squeezing left ahead of me before I get alongside your vehicle.

If I don’t have traffic close behind me I can swing into the lane left of you a greater distance from your vehicle’s rear, outside the lead threshold.  Truck drivers driving as fast as, or faster than other vehicles typically get in the lane left of you well outside the lead threshold, because they don’t have to be concerned about a personal vehicle driver trying to pass them on the right.

When you see me in the lane to your left and about to overtake you, I hope you will not speed up.  Doing so leaves me hanging in that lane, vulnerable to impatient drivers pulling up behind you on my right and blocking me from aborting the pass and returning to the right lane.  It exasperates drivers behind me in the left lane who are waiting for me to get out of their way.  You might be surprised how many drivers in personal vehicles do speed up, if only slightly.  Perhaps as they see me closing on them they think they have let their speed drop off and need to restore it, or they just don’t want to wind up behind my truck. Whatever the reasons, they put me in a bind.

I don’t mind you speeding up as I get closer, so long as you do it before I change to the lane left of you.  I would just as soon not have to pass you.  With my truck governed at 65 mph, on the open road it is easier to cruise in the right lane and let all the faster drivers pass by on my left.

In addition to a driver speeding up as I am passing his vehicle, there is another event that can delay or stymie my pass.  That is when I get caught mid-pass on a slight uphill grade and my truck loses more speed than the vehicle I am trying to pass.  While I am careful about initiating a pass on a long steep grade, I can’t always see that a slighter grade is coming up or know whether or not I will be able to complete the pass on it.  I may have to cancel the pass, or I may still be able to ease by the other vehicle, or hang alongside it until we reach the top and then accelerate on by.  Again most drivers behind me waiting to pass are understanding and patient while an occasional driver expresses irritation at the delay.

Avoiding the Churn

Another instance in which I move to a left lane can occur in multiple-lane city freeway traffic.  When I can keep up with traffic flow I sometimes drive in one of the left lanes, not necessarily to pass but to free the right lane for entering and exiting vehicles (avoiding the congestion or “churn”).  Similarly I may move right for vehicles using left lane entrance and exit ramps.


When advancing on a truck that has been signaling to use a left lane for a pass, consider letting the driver complete the pass in front of you instead of rushing past the truck.

When behind a truck that is passing another vehicle on its left, patiently wait for the driver to leave a safe distance in front of that vehicle and return to its lane.

When a truck trailing your vehicle moves into the lane to your left to pass you, let the driver complete the pass and return to your lane in front of you.

In multiple-lane city freeway traffic, truck drivers may vacate the right lane or left lane to ease the congestion or “churn” from entering and exiting vehicles.

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