The tendency of drivers to pass other vehicles Academic Article uri icon


  • The purpose of this study was to assess the speed differential threshold—if there is one—at which drivers decide to pass a lead vehicle. Drivers in a simulator encountered vehicles in front that were programmed to travel at speeds that were similar, slightly below, or even slightly above the drivers’ own speed. The study involved a total of 152 such passing opportunities. In almost all of the encounters with slower vehicles (traveling at speeds slower than 3 km/h of the driver) they passed them, and in two thirds of the encounters when the lead vehicles were moving at their speed they passed them too. Most surprising was that in 50% of the encounters drivers passed the lead vehicle when it was traveling faster than their average speed. In these situations drivers actually increased their own speed substantially to accomplish the passing maneuver, despite the fact that not passing the lead vehicle would not have caused any delays. The tendency to pass appears to be related to the drivers’ own speed variability: the more variable the driver’s speed the more likely he or she was to pass the vehicle ahead even when its speed was greater than their average speed. The results are interpreted in terms of (a) driver aggression, and (b) association of car following with added effort, attention overload, or risk. The latter explanation implies that the tendency to pass vehicles may be reduced with the introduction of in-vehicle technologies such as adaptive cruise control.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005