Overtaking is probably the riskiest and most complicated manoeuvre we undertake on the road. Perhaps that’s why your driving instructor never taught you how to do it.


Slewing an Aston Martin across Italian roads for a James Bond film is the kind of high octane driving I’ve always wanted to be involved with. After filming several takes for the opening sequence of Quantum of Solace, we were ready for another attempt.

I was making a three-point turn under the watchful eye of the first assistant director, Terry Madden. As I nosed up to the cliff edge, he sprang into action with a twinkle in his eye: ‘That’s far enough you, just wait there.’

The return up the mountain looked clear to me, and he clocked my expression. ‘There’s been more fatalities during resets than all the stunts in this business put together.’

It was easy to forget the return journey, despite being at half pace, bore the closest resemblance to the haphazardness of real life, where there are no practice runs or people with radios to tell you when to stop.

Overtaking is probably the riskiest and most complicated manoeuvre we undertake on the road. Perhaps that’s why your driving instructor never taught you how to do it.

For me the first consideration regarding a potential overtake is: can I be bothered? If the traffic level is high, then it’s pointless risking life and limb just for the opportunity to read a new number plate.

If, however, the answer is yes, then I need to come up with a plan that passes muster with the part of me that doesn’t want to become an organ donor. That plan requires having clear space and enough speed to pull off the move. It’s the detail in arriving at this conclusion that requires your attention. These preliminary checks involve looking near, far and wide for obvious reasons not to overtake.

You can usually get a better view of what lies ahead by favouring the centre of the road next to the white line. However, if the road curves left then you can see further by moving to the inside line and looking past the passenger side of the car ahead. If you’re following something big always check both sides anyway to clock what you’re getting yourself into.

Check if the target car looks erratic, lost or is slowing and might be about to turn off at a junction, which is the number one cause of overtaking accidents.

These crashes often involve younger drivers failing to anticipate when someone is about to make a turn, and older drivers making dodgy turns without signalling. There will be plenty of time to argue the latter point in the back of the ambulance or at the pearly gates if this was your final sin. Or you could read the situation better.

If you discover a train of cars ahead of you, the gaps between those vehicles will open and close like logs floating down a river. Overtaking one car may be futile in these conditions anyway, but if you go for it you need to be doubly accurate with your observations to ensure the inviting space you’re relying on will be there when you arrive. It really antagonizes other drivers when you force your way into a tiny gap, so don’t expect them to offer you a steak dinner when they pull up alongside you at the next traffic lights.

The primary method that racers use to predict traffic flow is by constantly judging their ‘delta’ speed, which is the divergence in speed between vehicles. If the car in front of you has a high delta of say 40 mph closure on the traffic ahead, it probably means he is about to overtake, close the gap or have an almighty accident. Best to hang back, then.