When Can You Pass on the Right in Maryland?

Car Passing from the RightWhether it's legal to pass on the right in Maryland depends on the situation. The Maryland law set forth below, and is similar to what many states have, includes the ultimate judgment call: "when it is safe to do so." What is safe and what is insanely dangerous depends on the type of road the driver is on and the situation at hand. Unlike many other states, Maryland does not get into specific parameters of when you can pass on the right. Instead, it demands reasonableness which is a very broad standard.

The easy calls are passing on the right on a highway with multiple lanes going in the same direction (which is fine) and passing on the right on a dual lane highway (which is terribly illegal). In the latter case, other drivers have a reasonable expectation that other traffic is going to obey the rules of the road and not be passed on the right.

You can also overtake the lead vehicle on the shoulder on a left-hand turn, again if the circumstances make it safe to do so. You need to see what is there to be seen in front of you and make a determination if it is entirely safe.

Maryland Law on Passing on the Right

Let's get granular and look at the details of Maryland law on passing on the right. It starts with Section 21-303 of the Maryland Transportation Article titled General Rules Governing Overtaking and Passing Vehicles. It states:

§ 21-303. General rules governing overtaking and passing vehicles.

  1. In general.- Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, this section governs the overtaking and passing of vehicles going in the same direction.
  2. Overtaking vehicle to pass to the left.- The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle that is going in the same direction shall pass to the left of the overtaken vehicle at a safe distance.
  3. Overtaking vehicles going in the same direction.- The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle that is going in the same direction, until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle, may not drive any part of his vehicle directly in front of the overtaken vehicle.
  4. Overtaken vehicle to give way to right.- Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle, on audible signal, shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle.
  5. Duty of driver of overtaken vehicle.- Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle, until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle, may not increase the speed of his vehicle.

Subsection (d) is the key. But it begs the question of when it is lawful to pass on the right. This question is answered by Section 21-304 of the Maryland Transportation Article titled When Passing on Right is Permitted states:

  1. In general - Subject to the requirements of subsection (b) of this section, the driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only:
    1. if the overtaken vehicle is making or about to make a left turn:
    2. On a highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles and wide enough for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the same direction as the overtaking vehicle; or
    3. On any one-way roadway, if the roadway is free from obstruction and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
      1. Safe conditions required. - The driver of a vehicle may not overtake and pass another vehicle to the right only if it is safe to do so.
      2. Driving off roadway.- The movement described under subsection (b) of this section may not be made by driving off the roadway.
What Does it Mean to "Pass on the Right?"

Passing on the right means exactly what you would think. It is overtaking another vehicle from the right side. This can be either an incredibly unsafe or perfectly acceptable practice, depending on the context. In most cases, it is much safer to pass a slower car in the left lane. But that is the problem with bright-line rules. They are exceptions and instances where it may be better to pass a driver on their right side. The left lane is usually reserved for passing cars and faster moving traffic, but as you have probably experienced, occasionally there are drivers in that lane moving slower than expected. In this kind of scenario, a person may try to pass on the right, meaning they move over to the right-hand lane to pass the car and then return to the left lane.

Is it Illegal to Pass on the Right?

Whether it is legal to pass on the right depends upon the state. There's a reason why most states prefer you pass on the left side. It's generally regarded as the safer option, as drivers have a wider field of vision on their left side, there are vehicles stopped on the right shoulder, and the steering wheel is on the left (which makes massing on the right more difficult). Of course, most exit ramps are placed on the right side of the highway which is another important factor.

In Maryland, if you've tried to pass on the right side of a car, you could end up with a ticket. This is because passing on the right is illegal in Maryland except under certain circumstances. The only time passing on the right is permitted is if:

  • The overtaken vehicle is making or about to make a left turn
  • The driver is on "a highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles and is wide enough for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the same direction as the overtaking vehicle."
  • The driver is on "any one-way roadway if the roadway is free from obstruction and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles."

There are some additional requirements to ensure that passing on the right is acceptable. A person can only pass a car in the right lane if it is safe to do so. An example of a bad time to pass on the right would be if traffic is already trying to merge in the right lane. Disrupting the flow of merging traffic can easily lead to a collision. On top of that, you cannot pass on the right if it requires you to drive off the roadway.

If you are looking for a summary of all of this, passing to the right is permissible if there are two or more lanes of unobstructed pavement for motor vehicles traveling in the same direction. Of course, there are no circumstances where you should drive off of the travel portion of the roadway to pass another vehicle that is moving in the same direction.

Maryland is not tough on drivers passing on the right. So if you get a ticket for passing on the right in Maryland, it is almost invariably because the officer believes you did something that was inarguably unsafe.

Can You Pass on the Right on a Highway?

Generally, it is legal to pass on the right on a two-lane or more highway in Maryland. But on highways, it's even more important to make a smart decision when trying to pass a car because of the increased speed limit.

Is it Dangerous to Pass on the Right?

The simple answer to this question is yes, it is almost always more dangerous to pass on the right. You have a larger blind spot on your right side, making it much easier to accidentally merge onto a car while trying to move into the right lane. Most exit ramps are also placed on the right, meaning traffic is usually merging onto the highway from the far right lane. Many people are not even aware that you do have the ability to pass on the right, so they might not be paying a lot of attention to the person on their left, increasing your risk of a collision. Again, the true answer is more complication. It is usually, but not always, more dangerous to pass on the left. But there are situational exceptions.

If you intend to pass someone on the right and you see a car in the lane next to you, you should not try to merge over until you have made direct eye contact with the driver and made them aware of your presence. Of course, you should always use your blinker before changing lanes as well.

Take Home Message

The primary battlefield on this jury instruction is section 21-304(b) regarding what constitutes “safe to do so.” We recently addressed this issue in an appellate brief in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Ultimately, this is something of an eye of the beholder jury instruction. It does not perscribe clear instructions to drivers in specific situations. There is often dispute about passing on the right using part or all of the road's shoulder. This law and the jury instruction that comes with it does not provide clear answers, leaving it to the jury to decide what is reasonable.

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