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Do You "Flash to Pass" On Rural Roads?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2017

So I'm driving along through Utah on U.S. Highway 6, which is this lonely strip of road that connects the Salt Lake Valley to I-70 in the central part of the state in something like two hours. There are approximately four vehicles on this entire road, all going approximately 47 miles per hour in a 60 zone -- or, at least, that's how it felt to me. And, so, I did what you do in the rural west: I found a safe spot in a legal passing zone, and I passed them. Seems easy enough. Until the guy in the minivan got mad at me.

Here's what happened. I grew up in Colorado, and opposite-side passing in the Mountain West is a fact of life. Sure, I lived in Denver, which is a fairly large city -- but if you go even an hour outside of town, you'll find two-lane country roads that require opposite-side passing. With this in mind, I was taught how to pass on the opposite side of the road when I learned how to drive -- and I was always taught that you're supposed to flash your lights before a passing attempt. When I was growing up, this was called "flash to pass."

There was some theory behind this: If you were coming up behind a driver on a rural road and passing on the opposite side of the road, everyone involved was in some danger -- so it was a nice gesture to inform the driver you were passing, so he or she could slow down, or at least not make any sudden moves, as you went around. You don't flash to pass if traffic is moving in the same direction, of course, such as on an interstate with multiple lanes -- just on a rural road with one lane going each direction.

This has always made sense to me, but I left Colorado in 2006 for the East Coast, and I haven't spent much time out west since then -- so my opposite-side passing skills are a bit rusty. When you're coming from Philadelphia, where there are literally 200,000 human beings within two miles of my house, and you go out to rural Utah, where there are maybe seven, the whole "passing on the opposite side of the road" thing is initially terrifying.

But I quickly regained my footing, and I settled into a rhythm on U.S. 6: I'd come up to a vehicle (usually a heavy truck), and I'd flash my lights, put on my turn signal and go around. Then I'd move back over, drive for a while and repeat the process. Then I came up behind a Dodge Grand Caravan with Idaho plates.

In this situation, I did the very same thing as always: I flashed my lights, I signaled and I went around -- and as I went around, my fiancee informed me that the guy in the van was clearly angry with me for making such a move. He obviously wasn't angry due to the risk involved -- there were no other vehicles in sight, and it was a legal passing zone -- so I figured he must've been mad that I flashed my headlights. In fact, he probably took it as a sign of aggression: You aren't going fast enough, so I'm going to flash my lights until you move over! Granted, I didn't do it this way; I signaled and passed the Grand Caravan immediately after flashing my lights. But this must've been how he understood it.

And so, with that, I ask you, readers of Oversteer: Do you "flash to pass" on rural roads? Am I crazy for doing this? Have you ever heard of it? Is it too aggressive? I'm honestly curious to hear your responses -- and, as you reply, try to indicate where you live, or at least what level of rural-road driving experience you have.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Do You "Flash to Pass" On Rural Roads? - Autotrader