Undertaking is not illegal

Tony Carter is one of the UK’s leading experts on motorcycle safety and road law following a career as a Police motorcyclist, advanced motorcycle examiner and expert motorcycle accident investigator. Here he takes a look at one of the UK’s most misunderstood road laws – undertaking.

I often get asked about undertaking or what is referred to as the nearside overtake.  The most common example is usually found on a motorway when it is clear and we get the centre lane hogger.

Many TV programmes over the years have gone on about it being illegal, but the reality is that nowhere in current traffic law does it say that an undertake is illegal.  The reason for this is that apart from the centre lane hogger, congestion is often found close to motorway slip roads during the rush hour and traffic build up becomes substantial.

It is not unusual for lanes two and three (the centre and outside lanes) to be stationary whilst lane one (the left-hand lane) remains empty.  If traffic was prohibited from passing along the nearside, then the congestion would be worse than we currently experience.


At the same time, (going back to the centre lane hogger) it is not always practical or safe when you are travelling at 70 and someone is doing 50 in lane two to go from lane one to lane three, bearing in mind that lane one is the normal driving lane.

So is it legal to undertake?  Well it is not illegal.  The only offence open to the prosecution is either dangerous or careless driving, but to prove these offences it has to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the standard of driving fell well below that of a reasonably safe and competent driver, therefore the sole act of a nearside overtake is insufficient.  However, weave from lane to lane at high speed, then it may be a different story.

So this raises the question of “What if I decide to undertake and the car in the centre lane decides to move back into the inside lane?”

The driver in the centre lane however does commit the offence of driving without reasonable consideration for other road users (which is a subsection of careless driving), and they also have a statutory duty of care to ensure that it is safe to return to that lane before they actually start to change position.

Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that we all go around undertaking every time we are on a Motorway, but there are occasions when it is reasonable for a number of reasons, and the courts are now recognising this and have found in favour of riders who have undertaken, where before the rider may have decided against making a claim on the basis that they believed that they committed an offence.

Again, it all comes down to the circumstances and the evidence available.

Tony is the motorcycle accident investigation expert at Hudgell Solicitors ( 



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The Author

Tony Carter

Tony Carter

Few people are as qualified as Tony to talk about motorcycle safety, driving standards, UK road laws and accident investigations.

Tony has had a long career in the police as a Class 1 motorcyclist and car driver, during which he served as a qualified instructor and accident investigator and also as a member of the Police Special Escort Group, escorting the Royal family and foreign dignitaries.

He is one of RoSPA’s most senior advanced examiners, a founder member of the Motorcycle Rider Training Association (MRTA) and is a Driving Standards Agency (DSA) subject matter expert.

Along with Stu Bullock and Russ Todd he was involved in the writing, developing and delivering of the RoSPA diploma course for advanced instructors which became the benchmark that all advanced instructors aspired to and remains the benchmark qualification to this day.

An acknowledged expert on accidents, Tony now works for Hudgell Solicitors where his knowledge and experience is used to help bikers and other road users negotiate often complex insurance claims and investigations.

Tony can be contacted via 0800 321 3322 or via the Hudgells website at