Written by Gregory Monte.
I am not an attorney, but I spend quite a bit of my free time reading and interpreting motor vehicle codes for fun and entertainment. Although this may sound a bit perverse, I do it because I am interested in learning about obscure laws that most people have no idea exist. I then enjoy sharing what I have learned on this blog.
But don’t think that I am just engaging in the pursuit of triviality. Much of what I write about has a practical application. This is certainly the case for me, personally. I spend 20 hours a week commuting to work – approximately 1,000 miles driving the roads and highways in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Knowing the rules of the road (even if some of them are a bit obscure) has self-evident value in my estimation.
I am also quite confident that there are plenty of other people out there who are in a similar situation. Not that everyone drives as much as I do, but everybody surely uses the roads at least a couple of times a week. So, every time I find an interesting traffic statute that I never knew existed, I want readers to know about it also.
The Asshole Flashing His Lights Behind You
Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. Have you ever experienced a situation where some jerk comes up behind you and flashes his lights and beeps his horn because he wants to pass you?
Well, guess what?
When he does that, he is well within his rights under the law.
This is true on a multi-lane highway as well as on a single lane road. You are required to accommodate this individual under a section of the motor vehicle code called “overtaking on the left.” Although not every state uses this exact phrase, they all have a section which governs passing. As the slower driver, you are obligated to either move to the right (multi-lane highway) or slow down (single lane) and allow him to pass.
Here are some specific examples to illustrate my point. If I didn’t include your state on this list, just do a quick Google search and you can verify that your code contains similar language (for example, search using the terms: Nevada overtaking on the left):
“… the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall not increase the speed of the vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle and shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on suitable signal.”
The “suitable signal” is defined as: “… an audible signal or the intermittent flashing of low and high beams…”
“… the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”
“… the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall safely move to the right-hand side of the highway in favor of the overtaking vehicle after an audible signal or a momentary flash of headlights by the overtaking vehicle, and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle. This section does not require the driver of an overtaken vehicle to drive on the shoulder of the highway in order to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass.”
“… the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle, on audible signal or upon the visible blinking of the headlamps of the overtaking vehicle if such overtaking is being attempted at nighttime, and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”
“… the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”
“An operator being passed by another vehicle: (1) shall, on audible signal, move or remain to the right in favor of the passing vehicle; and (2) may not accelerate until completely passed by the passing vehicle.
No ticket for the asshole (but maybe one for you)
So, whether that “asshole” flashes you, beeps his horn or both (depending on the state), you are required by law to let him pass. But what is even worse, these statutes kind of imply that you are the actual “asshole” in this situation if you refuse to slow down and comply with the statute. You may even earn your self a nice citation for your behavior. Florida’s statute makes the legal consequences quite clear, but cops in any state have the authority to issue you a ticket:
“A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.”
Important Final Note
Not all states allow vehicles to cross the double yellow center line of a two lane road when passing on the left. For example, according to Maine’s Motor Vehicle Code:
“… an operator may not drive to the left side of the way under the following conditions … When the double center line highway marking method is used and an unbroken painted line is marked …”
I will provide details about this in my next blog post when I answer the question: Can you legally cross a double yellow line in order to pass another vehicle?