Speeding To Pass Slower Vehicles

Can You Speed to Pass a Slower Vehicle in WA?

A few weeks back, I received a phone call from a potential client (PC) asking if I would be willing to represent him in appealing his speeding ticket that was recently found committed (guilty) by the Judge who heard his case early that week.

Although I have appealed my fair share of traffic infraction cases over the years, my general rule of thumb is only to appeal a case where an infraction lawyer was initially involved in fighting the case (the reason for this deserves its own discussion), so I passed on his case. However, I was interested in the issue, and this potential client was adamant that he would win on appeal. So I took the bait, “why do you think you would win?”

Without hesitation, he responded because I was speeding to pass a slower vehicle. The conversation continued…
  • Me: Hmm…where did you hear that you could speed to pass?
  • PC: It’s the law, aren’t you a speeding ticket attorney?
  • Me: Yeah, last I checked (brief pause), so where were you at when you were pulled over?
  • PC: I was driving Southbound on I5, I had just entered into Thurston County.
  • Me: Gotcha, WSP likes to hang out there, do you remember how many lanes there are on I5 when you sped up to pass?
  • PC: Yeah, I think three lanes are heading southbound.
  • Me: In each direction right? So a total of 6 lanes?
  • PC: Yeah, I think so.
  • Me: I know that you have heard that speeding to pass a slower vehicle is permitted, but what you did doesn’t qualify.
  • PC: Are you sure?!
  • Me: 100% positive! Good thing you called the traffic ticket attorney!!

Most drivers, like the potential client, believe that it is legal to speed up to pass a slower moving vehicle. In fact, this is a common defense that I hear on a weekly basis from drivers who decide to represent themselves in Court (usually with one of the other common defenses that don’t work). It goes something like this, “yes Judge I was speeding, but only for a brief moment, how else can you pass someone without speeding a little bit?

The answer might surprise you, but before we delve too far into answering this question, we need to take a look at the statute that covers this issue. RCW 46.61.425 addresses the situation of passing a slow-moving vehicle.

RCW 46.61.425 – Minimum speed regulation—Passing slow moving vehicle.

(1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law: PROVIDED, That a person following a vehicle driving at less than the legal maximum speed and desiring to pass such vehicle may exceed the speed limit, subject to the provisions of RCW 46.61.120 on highways having only one lane of traffic in each direction, at only such a speed and for only such a distance as is necessary to complete the pass with a reasonable margin of safety.
So let’s break this down:

  1. A person following a vehicle who is driving below the speed limit and desires to pass that vehicle;
  2. On a two-lane road, with each lane traveling in opposite directions;
  3. May briefly exceed the speed limit, at a speed and distance only necessary to pass with safety.

So, yes, you can speed to pass another vehicle BUT only when you are on a two-lane road, AND the car you are passing is driving below the posted speed limit  (i.e., the car you want to pass is going 45 MPH in a 60 MPH zone).

Most drivers, like the individual above, believe that this rule applies anytime you are trying to pass someone on the roadway. However, the law only allows you to speed up above the posted speed limit on a two-lane road. Obviously, the guy did not have an argument to appeal when he was speeding to pass on I5. Let’s look at a few other examples below

Say you are cruising on a two-lane road with nothing but daylight ahead of you. The speed limit is 60 mph, but there is no one in sight, and you are at a healthy 80 mph. In the distance, you see a vehicle traveling in the same direction. With each passing second you are gaining ground, and before you know it, you are right on them. You have to brake; your speed falls to 70 mph.  The vehicle in front of you is on a Sunday stroll, crawling along at 65 mph. Since they are moving slower than you, you decide to pass them. You speed back up to pass them safely, but only for a moment to get around the slow-poke.

The main issue in this scenario is that the vehicle you passed was not traveling at less than the legal maximum speed of 60 MPH. Therefore, you did not have legal justification to speed up to pass them. The vehicle moving at 65 MPH that you want to pass is speeding, and if you pass them, you will be the one likely getting the speeding ticket if a cop is around.

Now, if the situation is changed a bit, and let’s say the vehicle you want to pass is only going 55 MPH in a 60 MPH zone. You want to move past them just so you can operate your car at the posted speed limit, then as long as the all the other requirements discussed above are met then you can speed up to pass them.

The Bottom Line …

If you are approaching a vehicle in front of you that is driving noticeably slower than the posted speed limit, on a two-lane road, and you realize that it is safe to pass that car, then it is legal to speed to pass that vehicle.

Also, remember that although you can sometimes speed to pass, passing is ILLEGAL when:

  1. The center line is a double solid yellow line, or there is a solid yellow line on your side.
  2. There is a DO NOT PASS sign on the roadway.
  3. A vehicle is already going close to, or above the road’s speed limit.
  4. You do not have enough time to pass the vehicle in front of you and safely return to your lane before reaching a solid yellow line or double solid yellow lines.
  5. You do not have enough time to pass the vehicle in front of you and safely return to your lane before confronting oncoming traffic within 200 feet of your vehicle.
  6. You are approaching a curve or top of the hill and are unable to see oncoming traffic from enough distance to assess if they may reach you during the passing maneuver, and you are also not able to see around the vehicle that you are passing.
  7. You are within 100 feet of a bridge or railroad crossing.
  8. You are behind a school bus that is loading or unloading children.

Still, have questions regarding speeding to pass a slower vehicle? Or did you receive a speeding ticket in Tacoma, WA or throughout the greater Puget Sound and planned on using this defense? Before you make the same mistake the potential client made, make sure you understand the law regarding speeding to pass a slower vehicle.