Translesion synthesis (TLS) by Y-family DNA polymerases alleviates replication stalling at DNA damage. Ring-shaped processivity clamps play a critical but ill-defined role in mediating exchange between Y-family and replicative polymerases during TLS. By reconstituting TLS at the single-molecule level, we show that the Escherichia coli β clamp can simultaneously bind the replicative polymerase (Pol) III and the conserved Y-family Pol IV, enabling exchange of the two polymerases and rapid bypass of a Pol IV cognate lesion. Furthermore, we find that a secondary contact between Pol IV and β limits Pol IV synthesis under normal conditions but facilitates Pol III displacement from the primer terminus following Pol IV induction during the SOS DNA damage response. These results support a role for secondary polymerase clamp interactions in regulating exchange and establishing a polymerase hierarchy.