Making Safe Lane Changes

Lane ChangeMirror, signal, shoulder check, move. These are the four steps for a successful lane changes. Simple enough one would expect, until you watch what goes on around you in traffic today. This is a basic skill that a driver should be confident practicing once they have left the novice stage behind.

image of car making lane changes

Plan Your Move

Unless lane changes are forced by an emergency, the first step in changing lanes is to think ahead and plan your move. Scanning well in advance for changes in traffic or anticipating your exit gives you the time to execute a lane change safely, without affecting the travel of another vehicle.

If you've left yourself an out, you can minimize the risk in an emergency as well.


You must signal every time you make lane changes. That signal, made before you begin to change, must be made for long enough that the drivers around you realize your intent.

Gap Size

The gap in traffic that you want to move into must be large enough. Ideally, you need at least a 4 second gap, two seconds following distance for you and two seconds following distance for the driver behind you. This assumes good driving conditions, otherwise the gap will need to be larger.

Can't see both headlights of the vehicle behind you in the next lane in your center rear view mirror? Don't jam your vehicle into the space, leave your signal light on and monitor the gap.

Share the Road

Here's an opportunity for the driver behind to show that they know how to share the road. Rather than speed up and put everyone at risk, drop back and allow the change. It's a 'pay it forward' moment.

Now it's time for one last look around before you make your move. Traffic ahead of you is still moving, the gap to move into is still appropriate and there is nothing lurking in your blind spot. Do not rely on blind spot monitoring to do the job for you, a shoulder check is still required.

OK? Let's do it! Smoothly.

Solid Lines

Many drivers will make lane changes where it is forbidden to do so. It is illegal to make a lane change over a solid line at any time. Solid lines are marked at places like crosswalk approaches or where merging traffic needs to gauge the surroundings before moving anywhere. They say to the driver "Don't, it's not safe to change lanes here."

Lane Changes in an Intersection

"Tell the other drivers that it's illegal to make lane changes in an intersection" is something that I hear frequently. This is not the case in British Columbia unless it would be unsafe to make the change. A defensive driver will choose not to do this and it may also have negative consequences during a driving examination.

That's the short course for changing lanes safely!

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In rough numbers, police in BC issue 130,000 tickets each year for speeding.

They issue 1,200 tickets for unsafe lane changes. Do the math, and ask yourself when is the last time that you were annoyed by a speeding driver, rather than a selfish, aggressive driver.

Meanwhile, during an ICBC Driving Test, if an applicant commits this violation (such as crossing a solid line, or failing to signal properly), they only receive 10 penalty points (unless they cut in on the other driver, causing them to give way, which would be a Dangerous Action and result in immediate failure).

Good grief, I observed a Blue Bus transit driver come off the Lions Gate Bridge bus loop today, and then (way too late) change into the Bus/HOV lane across a solid line. If those guys don't know the rules, then seriously, who does?

And do you know what really irritates me, these days? It's when I have a nice gap to move into, and when I put on my signal for the lane change, the lowlife in the other lane reacts by speeding up on me all of a sudden! This is common, and a lot of drivers have discovered that they don't actually want to meet the back bumper of my Econoline - because once I've seen a reasonable opportunity, and signalled appropriately, I move over.

But I never cut in, and always try to accommodate drivers who do signal and 'ask' for the lane space. Like it says, you're paying it forward.

It should also be courteous of drivers when they see someone signalling to get into their lane to back off and let them in.

I was in Los Angels a few years back, the drivers there were very courteous when you signalled to get into their lane. It just seemed so common there to let you in.

When you have a pickup truck with canopy, camper or pulling a fifth wheel camper trailer, you can’t do the shoulder check, you only have your side mirrors to go by. I try to make sure any traffic behind me is well back.