Remarkably the law says little about overtaking. The acceleration and manoeuvrability of a motorcycle has long been recognised by the Civil Law and drivers, contrary to urban myth, actually have to look before they change their position in the road potentially moving into the path of an overtaking motorcyclist.
Flicking on the indicator does not give right of way but it is a common line maintained up to and including trial, often right up to the point when the Judge finds for the motorcyclist.
As a matter of law the overtaking vehicle has right of way and the moral high ground. The rules of law also state: do not overtake by junctions, solid white line systems apply to motorcyclists and if you have a queue of traffic braking to a stop ahead of you, the presumption that you can nip around the outside without assessing the risk of a vehicle at the head of a queue turning right out of that queue of traffic is a foolhardy risk. Wisdom says squirt past the vehicles briskly and that is how I do it, but in the certain knowledge that if I come a cropper one of the vehicles I have briskly overtaken will no doubt say I flew past and I was an accident waiting to happen.
The vehicle being overtaken owes you one duty only which is to maintain a safe and steady course. If you balls up your overtake, the driver of the overtaken vehicle need do nothing. He does not know if you will brake and tuck back in behind or wind on the throttle to power by. A pithy summary of the law is ‘you have gone for the overtake, so you sort it out’.
If the driver starts to accelerate as you pull alongside, back off, get behind him and leave a big gap. Overtaking somebody because you want to be out of their way because that individual is driving like an idiot means that for a period you are alongside him, with no control over him and little control of where you put yourself. Judges are not impressed by speed tussles between cars and motorcycles.
If the driver is incompetent rather than aggressive, an overtake is still unwise. It surprises me that rational and experienced motorcyclists get sideswiped by a car which has been driving oddly for some distance, and as the motorcyclist goes for an overtake, the driver veers into his path. Usually the driver is either lost, concentrating on his sat nav, or very old.
You can control what you do, but you have minimal influence over other road users so if you are going to put yourself alongside a car, probably best to be reasonably sure the driver is capable of a steady course. If he hasn’t managed it before, chances are he will go wrong again. However, it is unlikely to result in any legal consequence whereas aggressive overtaking of a car that wants to play racers will result in a very serious reduction of your award if it goes painfully wrong.
Bike Magazine April 2017