Changing Lanes in Intersections

Lane ChangeI am often asked to tell the motoring public that it is illegal to change lanes in an intersection. I cannot do this, because there is no specific rule prohibiting this driving action in B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act. However, a defensive driver will choose not to do this, even if it is legal.

The Rules About Changing Lanes

The Motor Vehicle Act prohibits lane changes when doing so is unsafe or will affect the travel of another vehicle. In addition a driver must not change lanes if it means crossing a solid line.

If there is no traffic in or near the intersection the lane change would be allowed as solid lines are not usually painted within intersections.

This rule also speaks about approaching intersections in the appropriate lane if you intend to turn. It would make sense to approach the intersection in the lane that you intend to use to travel through it as well.

Keep It Simple to Reduce the Risk

More than 50% of collisions in British Columbia occur in intersections, it is wise to keep vehicle movements there uncomplicated. This is why defensive driving prohibits making a lane change within the intersection. The choice removes one element of uncertainty for other drivers and that creates a safer driving environment.

Is It Safe For Me To Turn?

If you are going to turn at an intersection you probably look at which lanes drivers are approaching in and base your decision on whether they will be in your way if they stay in that lane. Once you commit to the turn it may be too late to prevent a collision if another driver makes a last second change.

Think carefully about what this might mean to you the next time you are tempted to change lanes while traveling through an intersection!

What is the Driver Ahead of You Doing?

Anticipation is one key to safe driving. You should not find yourself making a last minute swerve around the driver ahead of you who signalled (or didn't signal) a turn.

The minor inconvenience suffered from staying in the lane and slowing or stopping is a worthwhile trade for the major inconvenience of causing a collision by making a last second lane change in the intersection.

Make the Safe Choice and Stick With It!

In summary, choose the lane you want to use and occupy it well in advance of the intersection. If you decide that it is not the correct lane to use after all, wait until you are well clear of the intersection and then change lanes again as necessary.

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No doubt this is a dangerous practice. I see it all the time. At time, I've caught myself very close to lane changing in an intersection. Mistakes happen, but definitely it's just a matter of time and something bad will happen. There is enough happening in an intersection. Why add one more risk?

There are a lot of drivers who change lanes in what I think of as a 'reactionary' manner.  Nothing to do with planning (i.e. being in the correct lane for their next turn) so much as trying to get away from a perceived holdup ahead of them.  If they're in the left lane, and a car ahead signals an intention to turn left, they quickly try to get into the right lane; or conversely, if they're in the right lane and a car ahead signals an intention to turn right, or to parallel park, they quickly try to get into the left lane.

This is dumb.  Because unless the driver has given a moment to consider whether the vehicle ahead is actually going to hold them up significantly (does the left-turner have oncoming vehicles or pedestrians in his path?  Does the parallel parker appear to be competent with their maneuver?) then all the driver is doing is reacting with precious little thought or cognitive process.  And the more they do this, the less they're likely to end up in the lane that they actually need to be in for their own next maneuver, and as for driving with the maximum space cushion for safety well that concept isn't even in their heads; defensive driving skills = zero.

Let's suppose that our driver (we'll call him Bob) is in the left lane, and the truck ahead of him signals a left turn.  So just as he approaches the intersection, Bob switches lanes to the right. Well Bob, what about that parked car at the curb, about to pull into traffic, whose driver hasn't shoulder checked in years, but who has presumed that there's no conflict from a glance in the mirror?  What about that car on the cross-street to your right, whose driver is eager to make a right turn against their red light, only looking for a gap in traffic?  What about the oncoming driver in the sports car who is about to make a left turn across your path, Bob, who can't even see around the truck you're trying to avoid?   That's THREE potential conflicts to assess that Bob probably hasn't even considered; and although, in the event of a collision, the other driver will be held at fault, Bob still has to go through the horrendous hassle - including damage and possible injury - from the crash that he thoughtlessly drove himself into.

Meanwhile, Bob's sister - we'll call her Jane - has a more subtle mind.  She could beat her brother at chess 11 times out of 10, because she plans several moves ahead.  Jane is aware of the traffic laws - such as the requirement to signal lane-changes - and that some people seem to think that changing lanes in an intersection is dangerous.

Jane approaches the same situation, but she's already in the right lane as she is planning on a right turn several blocks later.  She notices the brake lights showing on the parked car, and checks for eye contact with that driver as they look in the side mirror.  And as she comes up to pass alongside that left-turning truck she's actively looking for the oncoming left-turning sports car (eye contact), to ensure that its driver has seen her.  And as quickly as she's certain that these possible hazards can be dismissed, she notices that the eager right-on-red turner on the cross street isn't looking her way - so although she's still in the intersection, and without bothering to signal (naughty Jane), she switches to the left lane temporarily, just to be safer.

Time.  Space.  Visibility.  

Jane will live a long and happy life; because she does think about it.

When you approaching and intersection, notice the line will change from broken white to solid. Clearly they can’t fill intersections with lines so, I’m pretty sure it mean you follow the rule of the last line until you get through the intersection and the line changes back to broken. 


When you approaching an intersection, notice the line will change from broken white to solid.

Not necessarily. Sometimes, the broken white line will become a solid white line; but it's not a standardized procedure. No municipality always does this. Oftentimes, the same arterial street will have a solid white line prior to some intersections, but not all of them. There's lots and lots of times though when it's a broken line all the way up to the intersection.

Why would they paint a solid white line in some circumstances, you may wonder? From my observations, it's to protect pedestrians who may be in the nearest crosswalk. Because there are times (see my previous blurb) when drivers might be tempted to switch lanes impulsively, in reaction to the flow of their lane ahead being interupted - and if they do so without scanning properly for hazards - then the result could be fatal for the unsighted pedestrian.

I’m pretty sure it mean you follow the rule of the last line until you get through the intersection and the line changes back to broken.

There is no such rule. It's only illegal to change lanes across a solid white line if ............. there's a solid white line at the point where you changed lanes.

If you look at the video around five to ten seconds in, all we're seeing here is an illegal lane change by the black SUV. Although the driver signalled (kinda late) they cut off the student driver in the right lane, forcing her to brake. It's typical of many drivers who switch lanes in reaction to someone ahead parallel parking (if they're in the right lane) or waiting to turn left (if they're in the left lane). It's stupid, reactive driving without forethought.

The fact that this illegal lane change occurred in an intersection isn't really relevant.

There are any number of videos on YouTube about how you should change lanes (some claim to advise how to change lanes 'on a road test' as though it requires a special technique or something), but finding content on why it should or shouldn't be done in intersections is actually proving quite difficult!