Is It Safe To Pass a Tractor-Trailer on the Right?

Published on February 13, 2024, by Forbes Law | Truck Accidents

Is It Safe To Pass a Tractor-Trailer on the Right?

When we go through a driver’s education class to receive our driver’s license, we learn that the general rule of thumb for all drivers is to pass other vehicles on the left side.

The reasoning is twofold: the left lane is intended for faster traffic, while the right lane is for slower traffic. Additionally, the blind spot is much smaller on the left side of a vehicle than on the right, making passing on the right more dangerous.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 43.1% of fatal traffic crashes involving large trucks in 2021 occurred when both the truck and the other vehicle were driving straight (i.e., not making a turn or stopping). This means that driving next to or near a large truck on a straight roadway is the most dangerous place to be, and likely the main reason for this is due to the large number of blind spots trucks have.

So, is it ever safe to pass a tractor-trailer on the right? We’ll dig into the answer and some safe driving tips.

What Are the Requirements for Passing Other Vehicles?

You’ll see some highway signs stating “left lane for passing only,” and you’ve probably noticed that a lot of drivers don’t seem to be adhering to that posted rule. Here in the Mountain State, Code 17C-7-1 states that vehicles should be driven on the right-hand side of the road or as close to the right as is safely possible, especially vehicles driving less than the normal traffic speed.

The only exceptions to this are:

  • When a vehicle is passing another vehicle
  • If the right lane is closed for construction or repair
  • If the road is divided into three marked lanes for traffic
  • If the road is designated and posted for one-way traffic

So, what if a vehicle is driving in the left lane, not actively passing any other vehicle, and you want to overtake and pass them?

They’re clearly not following the previously mentioned Code, so is passing on the right legally allowed in this situation?

According to West Virginia Code 17C-7-3, when overtaking and passing a vehicle driving in the same direction, you’re required to pass on the left. Drivers must give an audible signal that they are passing, then overtake the other vehicle safely and may not move back over to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. Additionally, those drivers of an overtaken vehicle must give way to the vehicle passing them and may not increase their speed until the other vehicle has completely passed them.

However, there are a few exceptions to allow passing on the right, as noted in WV Code 17C-7-4. Those exceptions are:

  • When the vehicle being overtaken is making or about to make a left turn
  • On a street or highway, including a one-way street, with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles and wide enough for two or more lines of moving traffic

The Code also states that in no event should passing on the right be made by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

Though the law is pretty clear, there are times when drivers, especially those on multiple-lane roads, pass other drivers on the right anyway. Unless the reason for passing on the right is one of the exceptions listed above, any driver who does so may face legal ramifications.

Most drivers don’t expect other drivers to pass them on the right, and if they see a vehicle moving up fast behind them, they are more likely to move over to allow that vehicle to pass on the left, which may inadvertently cause an accident.

How to Avoid a Semi’s Blind Spots

The truth is, you can’t completely avoid a tractor-trailer’s blind spots, even if you know where they are.

There’s always a moment when passing a large truck, or when they are passing you when your vehicle will be in their blind spot.

Due to their enormous size and the driver’s position, semi-trucks have a huge blind spot on the right side of their vehicles that runs the length of the truck and extends three lanes to the right. If a (usually much smaller) car decides to pass on the right, the chances are much higher that the driver of the 18-wheeler can’t even see them.

The best course of action when driving next to or around large trucks is to never drive too closely behind or in front of them and when you need to pass them, do so as quickly and safely as possible. This will limit the amount of time your vehicle is in the truck’s blind spot and lessen the chance of an accident occurring.

Another important thing to take note of when driving around large trucks is that, if you can’t see the driver of the truck in their side mirrors, they can’t see you. Also, if you are in front of them in the same lane and can’t see the driver’s face in your vehicle’s rear-view mirror, you might be too close for them to see you.

Now that we’ve discussed the laws of passing other vehicles while driving and the extent of blind spots on 18-wheelers, let’s answer the main question: Is it safe to pass a large truck on the right?

No, it’s not safe because they can’t see you, and they’re trained to expect vehicles to pass on the left.

Unfortunately, even if you follow the letter of the law and practice safe driving around tractor-trailers, accidents still happen. And if you’ve been harmed in a collision involving an 18-wheeler, an attorney from Forbes Law Offices can help assist you in the often confusing and devastating aftermath.