Dick Lovett

The psychology behind overtaking and 4 other ‘bad' driving habits

Posted 11th July 2024

The psychology behind overtaking and 4 other ‘bad' driving habits

Driving is one of life’s simplest joys. For some, the pleasure of driving comes from having a new, high-spec car. For others, driving is simply just a way to get from A to B. And naturally, as with most things in life, some of us are just a bit better at it than others. 

But, if there’s one thing that unites all drivers, regardless of skill or how much they use their car, it's the passing of judgement on how other drivers are using the road. 

And often, we’ll try to control the actions of other drivers on the road - whether that’s subconsciously or not. Many drivers will know the frustration of fast lane hogging on the motorway, or even the pain of trying to overtake another driver, only for them to speed up and not let you go in front. Something almost half (45%) of drivers told us they experienced in our new survey. 

Or maybe you’re on the other side of the argument as one of the 1 in 9 (11%) drivers guilty of deliberately not letting other road users overtake you by speeding up when they try

But why is this? To get to the bottom of it once and for all, Dick Lovett surveyed* drivers from across the UK and teamed up with two professional psychologists to explain. Check out what they’ve got to say below:

Why do some drivers not like to be overtaken?

Our research found that more than a fifth of drivers (22%) admit to feeling ‘offended’ when other drivers overtake them.

To get to the bottom of why this is, and the other feelings overtaking brings, we spoke to Mark Vahrmeyer, a UKCP psychotherapist and co-founder of Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy, and Dr Rebekah Wanic, a psychologist and self-optimisation coach at Vent to Reinvent.

Rebekah says there might not always be a sinister, or egotistical reason that someone seems to speed up when you try to over take them: “A relatively innocent explanation is that another driver coming up faster makes you realise that you might not have been paying attention to the road and slowed down, so their presence stimulates you to refocus and speed up.”

However, Rebekah also explains that other drivers will participate in stopping other drivers overtaking them as a form of punishment: “Some drivers prevent passing because they are bothered by the speed of another driver and may feel that they are behaving in an aggressive or unsafe way, so the prevention is a form of punishment.”

Rebekah continues: “Punishing others is very psychologically rewarding.

“There may also be an element of competition for some who don't like to lose, and feel that getting passed is a sign that they are not winning the race.

“This mindset is generally not conducive to safe or respectful driving, and when one notices such impulses, it is best to try to reign them in.”


Similarly, Mark explains that for many drivers, “Sharing the road with others is a collaborative, albeit, defensive experience.”

When it comes to overtaking, Mark explains that it is “probably the most contentious manoeuvre we can make in terms of how the driver in front or behind may react.”

Mark also explains why some drivers may feel the need to stop other drivers overtaking them on the road: “Being overtaken is very different to ‘letting another pass’.

“The former is done to us and the latter done by us.

“And therein lies the rub - many drivers experience being overtaken as a win-lose proposition, with the person being overtaken as the loser.

“For some, overtaking is simply personal and a criticism of their driving.”

What’s more, Mark explains how it’s very common for drivers to feel the need to ‘correct’ others on the road for similar reasons: “Because of our own values and the perceived danger of driving, many feel that they have the right to ‘correct’ other people’s driving and impose their idea of ‘the rules’ onto other drivers.

“Of course, the only correct rules are those in The Highway Code but that rarely features in such instances.

What are the nation’s other bad driving habits?

Even the best drivers will have a couple of bad habits they’ve picked up on their way - regardless of whether they’re following all the rules of the road.

However, there comes a point where bad driving habits aren’t just improper conduct. Bad driving habits can eventually develop - unintentionally or not - into dangerous driving, putting drivers at risk of fines or, worse, road accidents.

Our research revealed that some drivers are more guilty of having bad driving habits than others. Take a look at what we uncovered below:

1. Fast-lane hogging

Fast-lane hogging may seem more convenient than weaving in and out of the left-hand lane, but the fast-lane should only be used by drivers who are overtaking traffic. Once the manoeuvre is complete, the overtaking driver must move back into the slow or middle lane where there is one.

Delaying moving back in after overtaking and ‘hogging’ the fast lane can land drivers with points on their licence and a fine if the police deem it as careless driving under driving laws.

In fact, according to rule 264 of the Highway Code, you should: "Keep in the left lane unless overtaking.

"If you are overtaking, you should return to the left lane when it is safe to do so.”

However, our research found that 1 in 7 (13%) drivers say they prefer to drive in the right hand lane on the motorway or bypass, even when they’re not overtaking another driver. We also found that men are guiltier of this than women (15% vs 10%), and younger drivers aged 18-24 even more so, with more than a third (36%) saying they do this.


2. Undertaking

What is undertaking? Undertaking is when a driver passes another vehicle on the left of a bypass or motorway.

Is undertaking illegal? In the Highway Code, it is referred to as ‘overtaking on the left’, and while it is not technically illegal, the code does not recommend it. The only exceptions to the rule are when drivers are in slow-moving traffic, if the lane is moving faster than a lane on the right.

However, it is not deemed acceptable when one driver thinks another is driving too slow. Despite this, our research found that more than a quarter (27%) of drivers say they’d undertake another driver if they felt they were going too slow, with men 10% more likely to do this than women (31% vs 21%).


3. Brake Checking

What is brake checking? Brake checking is a bad driving habit that involves sharply hitting your brakes with another vehicle behind you for no other reason than warning the driver behind you that you think they’re too close. The intention is to make the unsuspecting driver slam on their brakes or swerve to avoid rear-ending your vehicle.

Brake check

Many people do this because they believe that insurance companies would find the victim of the brake check at fault for not leaving enough space, but is brake checking illegal? It is, and you can be charged with dangerous driving if you’re caught. Dangerous driving in the UK can carry an unlimited fine and a two-year prison sentence. So, just how many drivers are guilty of it?

Roughly 1 in 6 (17%) drivers told us they ‘brake check’ other drivers if they’re driving too close behind them. Again, young drivers (18-24) are the worst for this, where more than double the amount (36%) say they brake check.

4. Racing other drivers

Is street racing illegal? UK law considers street racing as dangerous driving under the Road Traffic Act 1998, section 2, and it is subject to severe penalties.

Street racing and car meets are a consistent problem for traffic police in the UK, and our research found that over 1 in 6 (16%) drivers say they’ve raced another driver before. This figure rises to 1 in 5 (19%) when looking just at male drivers (vs 12% for women).

However, the most concerning results were amongst young drivers, where these figures almost tripled. Our survey found that almost half (45%) of drivers aged 18-24 say they’ve raced another driver before.


*Research conducted via survey of 500 UK drivers (aged 18+) via 3Gem.

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