Jun 5, 2023

The offside rule

Further reading
IAM Roadsmart

The Offside Rule

I'm more of a rugby man than football in truth but my true interests are in motorsport and motorcycling in all its various guises.  In field sport the offside rule is often discussed and is the subject of numerous video replays each weekend at sporting fixtures.

You get the chance in slow-motion and high definition to replay the event over and over and often the worst that happens is the referee blows their whistle and declares that the attempt or goal is disallowed. However, on the public road, getting the offside rule wrong can have catastrophic consequences.

Straight lining, apexing, taking the racing line and offsiding are some of the names used to describe being on the 'wrong side of the road.'  But exactly what is the wrong side of the road?  We pay a lot of vehicle excise duty and all of that glorious tarmac is available to us, isn't it?  I mean as an advanced driver or rider we all know we can use it in certain circumstances and it just depends doesn't it?

Ask your average road user what they think about seeing a vehicle or motorcycle on the opposite carriageway to their norm and they will cry 'dangerous.' Ah and here is the first lesson - perception.

We must be careful of the perception our actions have on other road users. At best they may wave at us in a rather less than encouraging way, at worst they may take avoiding action such that bent metal and twisted bodies are the result.

With the help of my colleague, Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards, here is your definitive guide to this subject.  But first of all, just what is offsiding? It is the practice of moving to the offside of the road across either centre line markings or hazard line markings on the approach to a left hand bend where you do not have a view around the bend.

Generally when practised it is in an attempt to encourage the limit point of vision to match/open quicker and allow a greater speed of approach. Issues often arise when a vehicle comes into view and your movement required to adopt a position of safety is sudden and often coarse. The oncoming vehicle could react to your presence and this may cause a chain reaction behind it.

At speeds within the posted limit the benefit of this extreme offside positioning is all but negated, even in Roadcraft, whose focus is on progress for emergency service drivers, the practice of offsiding is not mentioned or encouraged.

It advocates positioning towards the centre line and they encourage you to consider approaching traffic, your effect on others and whether there is any advantage all very much in sync with the IAM RoadSmart advanced course material. They finish by saying ‘don’t position yourself in a way that causes concern to other road users.’

What is not offsiding?

  • Adopting a straight line through a series of bends where you have a clear view of the road and the road surface (road markings permitting) i.e. ‘The road is mine until the loss of vision in 400yds, my mirrors are clear so I am adopting a straight and stable course.’
  • Opening up the radius of a bend where vision is available of any potential oncoming traffic or other hazards on a generally open road.
  • Moving out to make a planned safe overtake and then finding yourself with a fantastic view which allows you to maintain your progress before returning to your own side of the road.

There is a phrase that will help you decide when you can apply the offside rule in safety but I reiterate we never simply ‘offside’ on the approach to a left hand bend.

Picture the scene; I’m on a National observer driver assessment with an observer take for instance Alex from the Basingstoke Car Group.  I see the road ahead is weaving like a snake on a mission, the road surface is visible for about half a mile and nothing else is in sight, so I ask – ‘can I straighten this out?’  Alex said you need to SLAP.  Clearly I slightly misheard him and thought this type of punishment is rarely handed out on test to an examiner!

He went on to explain that when you are considering straightening out a corner, but never ‘offsiding’ and using the other side of the road you need to consider the acronym SLAP.

SAFE – is it safe to do so? (Considering the view available and any hazards)
LEGAL – Is it legal to do it? (Road markings)
ACHIEVE – Does it actually achieve something? (Or are you just showboating)
PERCEPTION – What is the perception of another road user of your actions?

Taking Richard’s clear and unambiguous guidance on when you can cross the paint, then considering ‘SLAP’ as your guiding principle, you should be able to master the offside rule in complete safety remembering the quote in Roadcraft - Quiet efficiency is the hallmark of the expert.

Enjoy the drive/ride.

Shaun Cronin IAM RoadSmart’s Regional service delivery team manager (Southern)