Is Undertaking Illegal in the UK?

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Undertaking, which refers to the practice of overtaking another vehicle on the left side (the ‘inside’ in UK terms), is generally considered illegal and unsafe under most circumstances in the UK. The rules governing this maneuver are primarily outlined in the Highway Code, which provides guidance on road safety and acceptable driving practices.

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Legal Framework and Guidelines

According to the Highway Code, Rule 268 explicitly advises against undertaking on motorways unless traffic is moving slowly in queues, and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than the one you are in. This situation often occurs in congested traffic conditions where different lanes move at varying speeds, and in such cases, it is acceptable to overtake on the left.

Specific Situations Where Undertaking Might Be Permissible

  1. Heavy Traffic Conditions: When traffic is congested and lanes are moving at different speeds, it might be permissible to undertake if your lane is moving faster than the lane to your right.
  2. Directed by Road Signs: In some cases, road signs might direct drivers to overtake on the left, especially during roadworks or in specific road layouts.
  3. Multi-Lane Roads: On certain dual carriageways or urban roads with multiple lanes, undertaking might occur naturally due to the flow of traffic. However, it should still be approached with caution and only when necessary.

Risks and Penalties

Undertaking can be dangerous as it goes against the expected flow of traffic and can lead to collisions, particularly with drivers who are not anticipating being overtaken from the left. If a driver is caught undertaking inappropriately, they could face penalties for careless driving. This includes fines, penalty points on their driving license, and in severe cases, court prosecution.

Best Practices

To ensure safety and compliance with the law, drivers are advised to:

  • Stick to the right for overtaking on motorways and dual carriageways.
  • Avoid weaving between lanes.
  • Be patient and wait for a safe opportunity to overtake on the right.
  • Follow the flow of traffic and road signs carefully, especially in congested areas.

Recent Legal Updates

The latest updates in UK road and employment law in 2024 have primarily focused on enhancing workers’ rights and updating salary thresholds for various visas. While these do not directly impact road traffic laws, they reflect the broader regulatory environment in the UK aimed at improving safety and fairness in various aspects of daily life.

By understanding the rules and exercising caution, drivers can avoid the legal and safety risks associated with undertaking.

For more detailed information, refer to the UK government’s Highway Code and recent legal updates from reliable sources like CIPD, House of Commons Library, and Lewis Silkin.

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