I've got a question about how to drive the car in Europe on Highways. In the US, I can overtake another car on either side, and I am fine.

In Europe I was told that I have to drive on the right side (Germany), and to overtake on the left side of the other driver.

Now I had following situation, and I did not know how to handle this properly: I was driving along on the right lane, the Autobahn was 3 lanes wide on my side, and was going around 110 km/h. Someone overtook me, but he stayed on the middle lane, and suddenly got slower. He wasn't really in front of me, so I could not change to the left lane, but I was told I may not overtake on the right side.

Would I have to brake in such a situation, or should I just ignore it, and overtake him again on the right side?

(I overtook him, and he was on the phone, so I guess that was why he got distracted and slowed down that much).

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    I read through that, and it was a general description of what is different, but I have a good idea what is different. In my scenario the other driver behaved contrary to everything I knew he should, so I wondered what I should have done there. – SinisterMJ Feb 20 '13 at 12:59
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    Overtaking on the right is legal in the US?! – gerrit Feb 20 '13 at 19:39
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    Yes, you can pass on either side. Overtaking a truck on the right is stupid, but legal. – SinisterMJ Feb 20 '13 at 21:23
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    @gerrit If you've ever driven on a five-lane highway in Europe, you would argue in favor of the "keep your lane" principle. For two or three lane highways, the European system works fine. – Bernhard Feb 21 '13 at 6:37
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    @O.R.Mapper You are right if everybody would indeed drive as far right as possible. In reality, some people don't do that properly, and your 5-lane highway transforms in a 3-way, with traffic of four lanes having to squeeze through two lanes instead. I've rarely seen it work. On 4-lane highways, I often shift four lanes to the left to overtake someone. – Bernhard Dec 22 '14 at 21:45

You are right about the overtaking rules. You can only overtake on the left side of the other driver. But, there is another rule, you should occupy the right-most lane (except in the UK of course, there it is the other way around).

There are a few exceptions

  1. When there is a traffic jam ahead, and traffic is going slower, you can (and should) overtake on the right side.
  2. On a multiple lane road with exits on the left, you may overtake a driver on the right, if he signalling to turn left.

In the specific situation you are referring to, it does depend on what is happening in front of you. In case of normal traffic, you were not allowed to overtake him, even though he was braking. Maybe the speed limit changed at that location, and was that the reason for braking?

Overtaking on the right is especially dangerous, as drivers in Europe do not expect this. Even tough someone is not obeying the 'keep right' rule (and is phoning). So, what you should have done, officially, is brake, change two lanes to the left, then overtake, and change two lanes back again. In practice, most Europeans would do what you did, and give the other driver the angry face (if he really had no reason to brake).

  • I swear, the Autobahn was pretty much empty, and there was no speed limit. So thanks for the confirmation, I was like, thats a stupid situation... – SinisterMJ Feb 20 '13 at 12:54
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    Mostly right, but be aware that both the exact regulations (e.g. when you are allowed to overtake on the right side) and the driving culture (how these regulations are lived up to in practice) are very different between European countries. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 20 '13 at 12:54
  • As far as I know, overtaking on right is not infraction if it's road with divided carriageways or one way carriageway; or the carriageway has at least three lanes in your direction. Also I do agree that it's not the safest way, but I wouldn't say that it's uncommon. – vartec Feb 22 '13 at 15:40
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    @vartec it depends on the country. – oefe Feb 24 '13 at 8:54
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    "I swear, the Autobahn was pretty much empty, and there was no speed limit." Note that it's quite hard to recognise speed limit changes on the autobahn; it's a well-known problem for folks new to the autobahn. But yeah, just "don't pass on the right" it's that simple. – Fattie Nov 2 '14 at 11:48

If you were in Romania, you wouldn't have broken any laws. The Romanian law makes a clear difference between overtaking and passing.

In Romania, you can overtake on the left lane only, but you can pass on all lanes.

Overtaking (is the same as in US and all the countries of the EU): signal left, change lane, move in front.

Passing (as being described by the Romanian legislation): you cruise on the motorway and you encounter a vehicle on your left or right lane moving slower than you and you simply keep your lane and pass him.

The difference between passing and overtaking is that when you overtake you move from one lane to another and the distance to the vehicle in front of you is smaller than 100m. When you change lanes and the distance between cars is bigger than 100m you legally execute the change lane maneuver. After you execute a change lane maneuver, you encounter a vehicle moving slower than you on your left or right lane and you cruise along him, you would be executing the passing maneuver, NOT overtaking.

Long story short, if the situation you described would have happened in Romania, you would have legally passed him on the right lane.

I have discovered that most of EU countries do not make the difference between overtaking and passing.

I added this as an answer because it was too long for a comment.

  • @motoDrizzt: Certainly not in Germany. – chirlu Jun 14 '17 at 9:49
  • I'm pretty sure you got it backwards. "Overtaking" happens when you get ahead of another vehicle without changing lanes. "Passing" happens when you actively change lanes to get ahead of another vehicle. – AnT Jun 24 '18 at 16:57

In Poland overtaking on the left is legal on motorways and any other roads with lanes in both directions separated. It is also legal on roads with three lanes in each direction outside cities and two lanes within city limit.

E.g. (page in polish, but has pictures) http://www.strefakulturalnejjazdy.pl/2013/06/czy-mozna-wyprzedzac-z-prawej-strony.html

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    I think you mean overtaking on the *right*. – tricasse Aug 25 '16 at 8:23

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