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When You Can Pass on the Right in Virginia — And When You Cannot

Passing on the right

Traffic laws in Virginia depend on drivers abiding by certain rules of the road. Some of these rules are codified into statutes, while others are simply customs that drivers accept and acknowledge. For example, suppose that a driver flashes their headlights as they approach you. Customs tell you that this driver is trying to warn you of a hazard ahead. Similarly, you know that if you are turning left, the approaching traffic has the right-of-way. This and other right-of-way practices are rules of the road that are also codified into statutes. In this blog, you will understand the passing of the right law.

A general prohibition against passing traffic on the right-hand side falls into the latter category. The Virginia Code Section 46.2-841 discusses when a driver can pass on the right. Is it illegal to pass on the right in Virginia? Not always, according to the statute.


What Is Passing on the Right


Passing on the right” refers to the act of overtaking or passing another vehicle on the road by moving to the right side of it. In countries where traffic keeps to the right, passing on the right is generally done by moving into the lane to the right of the vehicle you are overtaking. However, it’s essential to follow traffic laws and regulations, as in some situations and places, passing on the right may be prohibited or restricted for safety reasons.

When Passing on the Right Is Illegal


If you ask several average Virginia drivers, “Is it illegal to pass on the right in Virginia?” you will likely get a variety of answers. Some may say it is never okay to pass on the right. Others may claim that passing on the right is perfectly legal in all cases. Drivers may also believe that you can sometimes pass on the right, depending on the situation.

Virginia law is clear — there are times when you can pass legally and times when you cannot. The rules regarding when passing on the right is illegal are as follows:

Bicycle Lanes Cannot Be Used to Pass


As a general rule, you cannot use a clearly marked bicycle lane to pass another vehicle. Bicycle lanes in Virginia will usually have a solid line in the roadway and are on the far right side of the street.

However, you can use a bicycle lane to pass on the right if a law enforcement officer directs you to do so. You can also use a bicycle lane to pass on the right to get around an accident, during an emergency situation, or when weather conditions make the rest of the road impassable.

Drivers Cannot Use the Shoulder


Is it illegal to pass on the right using the shoulder of a road? In most instances, the answer will be yes. Virginia law prohibits the use of the shoulder unless construction road signs specifically permit you to use the shoulder. Otherwise, driving on the shoulder for any reason, including to pass, is off-limits.

You Cannot Pass on the Right in Unsafe Situations


According to Virginia law, drivers can pass on the right only when they are able to do so safely. Thus, even in cases where the law would allow you to pass on the right, you still cannot make this maneuver if you cannot do so safely.

Traffic congestion, road, and weather conditions, or obstructions in the road are just some of the situations that can make passing on the right unsafe.

When Drivers Can Overtake Other Vehicles on the Right


passing on the right or left

The statute sets forth three specific situations in which you may pass another vehicle on the right. The first is when a driver ahead of you is signaling that they are making a left turn.

If you see a driver in the lane ahead of you intending to turn left, and there is an unoccupied paved lane to your right traveling in the same direction, then you can use that lane to get around the turning vehicle.

You may also pass on the right any time there are two or more paved lanes going in the same direction. This rule may help when, for example, a slow-moving vehicle is in the center or left lane. If a vehicle using one of these lanes is not moving over to make way for faster-moving traffic, you can use the right lane to pass.

The same is true for one-way roads that have two or more paved lanes for traffic.

Illegal Passing on the Right Carries Consequences


Illegal passing on the right is a traffic offense that the law punishes with a fine. An officer could also charge you with a more serious offense like reckless driving if you pass in a careless manner. But the more likely consequence by far of passing on the right when you should not do so is the civil liability it creates in the event of a crash.

If you are passing on the right, the law places upon you the responsibility for doing so safely. Failing to exercise due care can make this otherwise standard maneuver dangerous for others on the road. Before you use the right lane to pass, make sure that you:

  • Signal your intent to move to the right lane, if applicable
  • Have sufficient space to pass the vehicle to the left of you
  • Proceed to pass in a smooth, steady movement
  • Do not cut off traffic in either lane by switching lanes abruptly
  • Obey the speed limits and consider road and weather conditions before making your move

If a crash does result, you can expect that the other driver’s insurance company will be scrutinizing the manner in which you attempted to pass in the right lane. Any negligence you committed that led to the crash can take away your opportunity to recover damages.

Bring Your Traffic Questions to The Joel Bieber Firm


So, is it illegal to pass on the right in Virginia? In some cases, it is illegal, while in others, it is perfectly acceptable.

If you have questions about traffic laws and how they apply to your case, The Joel Bieber Firm is ready to give you answers. We can review the details of your case and advise you on whether Virginia traffic laws impact your right to recovery.

Our firm does not shy away from tough cases. If you’ve been hurt, you deserve to get informed and knowledgeable advice. Contact us today.

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