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driving concerns

We just drove from Victoria to Calgary and back with a dog and two kids. When we got to Alberta, there were a few times where drivers sped up when we tried to pass. They’d be going just at the speed limit and then floored it to 120 kilometres an hour as we passed. This happened when we were passing cars on a two-lane undivided highway with only one lane in each direction and we were in the oncoming lane to pass. It was terrifying – we had to slow down and get back behind them because there was an oncoming car. We weren’t tailgating them, but there were cars tailgating us and we wanted to get ahead. That has to be illegal, right? – Emma, Victoria

When it comes to passing, nobody should feel the need for speed.

Whether you’re the car being passed or the car doing the passing, you shouldn’t be flooring it, a driving safety expert said.

“Speeding up when you’re being passed is illegal,” said Martin Wiseman, chief instructor with the Alberta Motor Association (AMA). “But the law is also very clear that it’s also illegal to go over the speed limit in order to pass someone.”

Section 21.2 of Alberta’s Use of Highway and Rules of the Road legislation states that a driver being passed “shall not increase the speed of the overtaken vehicle until the overtaken vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”

That warrants a $243 fine, Corporal Troy Savinkoff, Alberta RCMP spokesman, said in an e-mail.

While the rules vary by province, most are similar.

For instance, Quebec’s law says a driver “must not increase the speed of his vehicle while it is being passed.”

You could also face careless driving charges in every province.

Speeding is still illegal

But what about speeding if you’re the one doing the passing?

It’s illegal to break the speed limit in any situation, including if you’re passing another vehicle, Wiseman said.

“If a car in front of you is going the speed limit, you shouldn’t be passing,” he said. “And if you’re on a 100-kilometre-an-hour road and the vehicle in front of you is doing 95, you know you’ll have to break the speed limit to pass them.”

That’s true everywhere in Canada.

“There’s no exception for passing another vehicle, said Sergeant Audrey-Anne Bilodeau, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s provincial police force, Sûreté du Québec. “If the vehicle in front of you is going 100 kilometres an hour, you can’t go 120 to pass.”

The RCMP’s Savinkoff said police officers can use discretion when deciding whether to charge someone with speeding, including if they’re speeding while passing.

Passing in the oncoming lane

Any time you’ve got to enter the opposing lane to pass a vehicle in front of you, ask yourself whether it’s legal, safe and necessary, Wiseman said.

Even if passing is allowed on an undivided highway with only one lane in each direction – indicated by a broken line on your side of the road – it’s not always safe and it’s usually not necessary, he said.

“We have this mindset of ‘I must get in front,’” Wiseman said. “But, honestly, you’ll never get to the front because once you pass that one guy, there will just be another guy there.”

Unless you’re stuck behind some farm equipment going 25 kilometres an hour, most times there’s no reason to pass a car apart from perhaps, an emergency.

If they’re going the speed limit, it’s safer to stay behind them.

“Keep lots of room between you and them, so if there is a car too close behind you, there’s space for them to pass you,” Wiseman said.

Heading into the opposing lane to pass is one of the most dangerous things you can do on the road, he said. A head-on collision is statistically likely to be fatal.

“[The risk] is not worth it to save 30 seconds on your trip,” he said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.