The Lost Art of Making a Lane Change

Lane Change Too CloseThe sun is shining, the traffic is light and I'm actually enjoying my drive on the Inland Island Highway (technically speaking, it's a freeway) headed to Qualicum Beach. The only vehicle nearby is a car that is slowly overtaking me on the left. Not a problem as I'm travelling slightly under the 120 km/h speed limit.

Why, oh why, when there are literally kilometers of unused pavement in sight, does the driver of this vehicle have to make a lane change to the right putting their vehicle within about 3 vehicle lengths of my front bumper?

Didn't anyone ever teach them that you should see at least the entire front end of the vehicle you have just passed in your center rear view mirror before you move back in front of it?

A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway must not drive it from one lane to another when a broken line only exists between the lanes, unless the driver has ascertained that movement can be made with safety and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle,

It seems entirely logical to me that if you allow yourself at least 2 seconds of following distance behind the vehicle in front of you in order to be safe, you must also leave at least 2 seconds of following distance behind you when you change lanes.

This driver must have decided that they liked the speed that I was driving at because after they moved over, they matched my speed.

Great, now I have to drop back to maintain safe following distance. At times like this I wonder why they didn't choose to make that lane change behind me?

I was lucky to receive 3 blinks of the right signal to tell me what the driver had done. One as they started to move, one as they crossed over the line and one when they were in front of me.

A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway must not drive it from one lane to another without first signalling his or her intention to do so by hand and arm or approved mechanical device in the manner prescribed by sections 171 and 172.

Signals are meant to be an advance warning. You use them to tell other drivers what you intend to do well before you do it. That means your action will not occur as a surprise and other drivers will have time to consider and perhaps even help you complete your move safely.

Oddly, there is no qualifier in the Motor Vehicle Act for a lane change signal the way that there is for a signal being made prior to turning:

If a signal of intention to turn right or left is required, a driver must give it continuously for sufficient distance before making the turn to warn traffic.

I can understand that making a lane change is more difficult when traffic is heavy. This is where anticipation and signal lights are the answer, especially if you are already familiar with the area that you are driving in.

Know where you have to start moving over and use your signals to ask other drivers politely for room to move over. It may mean having to spend a few more seconds in the "slow lane," but it is far safer and less frustrating for everyone if you don't just jam your vehicle in at the last possible second.


I thought I was just being a grumpy driver, and you confirm all my thoughts in the article. Good refresher, and where I drive a lot of people need to study this again - you are lucky to get 2 blinks of their turn signal as they are cutting in. Drivers also need to plan their turns ahead, not wait until they are on top of the junction to decide to switch across 3 lanes, which raises another point; common sense says you do not just stop until you can force your way across, but I see this behaviour more than I wish. When I was learning, if you realised you needed to turn and doing so would be dangerous, you kept going in the lane you were in and turned around at the next junction where it was safe to do so. So you add some travel to your journey, and you are safe and other people are safe. I digress.

I have seen drivers getting frustrated with a driver in the lane they want to turn into when they are almost alongside the other car, actually signal their intent and then get mad when they try to turn into the car next to them - um, he can't see your signals as you are in his blind spot!

I was out for a while driving a truck this week and it is amazing how dangerously close people cut in front (one car was about 3 feet from my bumper at 100 kmh) even when they had a clear road in front on a 2 lane highway, no signal or 1 or 2 blinks maximum, and as stated in the article, then slow down to your speed or slightly less!

Thanks for reminding people.

In reply to by thriving

  While I really agree with all said here, there was mention of the road spray as a result of someone pulling in too close in front of you but I would like to add the rocks that come up off the road on the Coquihalla at high speeds in winter and do a lot of damage to the vehicle behind.  Please please people pull way ahead before moving in front of the vehicle you just passed!!  I always put on the brakes and slow down in winter up there when being overtaken.  Unfortunately with the high winds and amount of traffic up there I believe they need to used a coarser gravel on the road so it will stay put longer.  Let me know if that is not correct.   Thanks.

The size of the "Sand" is stipulated in the contracts and in recent years the contractors are also permitted to use chemicals to remove ice from the roads. One of the problems with salt is it quits working around -10C.

The abrasive as used in contract language has to be between 12.5 and 20mm depending on the roadway.

It is also becoming the standard for small snow falls that the contractors are only applying salt to the road lettting the vehicle traffic clear the road off.

Think of the sand storms one sees on the dessert or beach areas. Sand is immediately blown off the road it has to be of sufficient size to stay.

If you live in the interior cracked windshields are a fact of life if you do much highway driving. I had mine broken yesterday.

As a professional driver with over 30 years safe driving, this situation is the most unsafe practice I see on a continuous basis.

Passing a fully loaded tractor / trailer combination and being passed by a smaller vehicle whose driver begins a lane change before they are completely passed me is surprising.

When the lane change is complete, there is sometimes less than a car length between us. I'm in this situation braking and looking to the shoulder of the road for animals that may cross our path. I'm thinking that a smaller vehicle driver will stop suddenly in that situation, forgetting completely about the rig behind them that weighs up to 30 or more time what their car or truck does

And if it's raining, unless you holding someone up, why not stay in the left lane until you have put considerable distance between yourself and the other vehicle.  No sense hosing his windshield down for no reason.

No sense hosing their windshield down for no reason.

If the cutting-off vehicle is much bigger than the passed vehicle, it's also a way to completely blind the driver behind. I used to drive a pickup truck and now have a little Hyundai, so I found this out. I was never the cutting-off type of driver, but I'm sure there are a bunch of thoughtless or aggressive passers that may not know they are doing this.

When I was learning, if you realised you needed to turn and doing so would be dangerous, you kept going in the lane you were in and turned around at the next junction where it was safe to do so.


Having ridden motorcycles for 64 years until mobility issues said "No" and driven heavy trucks off and on for about the same length of time, I have an appreciation for the sphincter tightening reaction when someone invades my "safe zone".  Reactions can be unpredictable.

A blast on the air horn can result in a new hood ornament on a Peterbilt.

On a motorcycle, I'll immediately move, speed or slow to where I again have my "escape route" and keep telling myself to not get upset. Losing emotional control is almost as dangerous as any other distraction. But, where it can be done safely, I've been known to ride alongside a stopped car and improve the driver's vocabulary while making direct references to his habits and parentage.

Why is it that driving at a legal speed in the right lane, you will have some idiot race up behind you to within a few feet before they pull left to pass? Is it some ego to show that THEY are such good drivers that they can't be inhibited by speed limits? Back in the day I did some rally driving and was not known for being slow. Maturity tells me that my skills are not as sharp as they once were but even then, I didn't try to intimidate other drivers. I have a low tolerance for those who do.

Tailgaters just get my goat. I refuse to speed up for them and where able, will always permit them to pass.

But I suppose I'm pretty "Old School" eh?  I still remember when "courtesy" was part of our language.

Perhaps putting a person's cell phone number on their licence plate might remove the anonymity factor?

Truckers blame the 4 wheelers and vice versa. I remember the days when if you caught up to a slower moving vehicle the driver would move over the fog line (technically not legal) and let you go by. Today that never happens.

Now remember I spend most of my time driving on single lane highways so what one has to put up with on 4 lane or divided highways is entirely different.

Truckers tailgating truckers. I believe it is recommended that 60m be left between commercial rigs or any vehicle in front of them yet one seldom sees this. I have seen it where there is insufficient room to fit a full size crewcab pick-up between them. Every year there is accidents locally where a car is pancaked between two commercial vehicles. These are not accidents caused by a car driver cutting in too soon but where they have had a commercial vehicle catch up and ride their bumper and sometimes with winter conditions little chance for them to pull off the road and let the truck by. You can say all you want about slowing down and increasing the distance between you and the vehicle in front but think of the intimidation some drivers feel when they have a rig pull up to their bumper often on high beam and stay there. The thought of slowing down is the last thing on their mind. 

Generally speaking I am travelling faster than the commercial vehicles especially when climbing yet I have seen it when driving my car that the truck that has caught up to me while I am trying to get by the truck in front of me is so close that all I can see in the inside mirror is the radiator grill!

Although it has been decades since I drove semi commercially the quality of commercial drivers on the road is getting worse every year.

As for cars pulling in to soon. I wonder if some of this problem is caused by the constant harping one hears from so called driving instructors and other professionals to do that shoulder check? Forget the shoulder check. If you have an inside mirror wait until you see the front of the vehicle you have past. As more and more people are driving pick-ups with canopies, SUV's get use to looking in your right mirror and judging there when you have a sufficient cushion.

Don't have a vehicle with a blind spot warning but think it would be a great safety improvement if they also included a little voice that said it is now safe to pull in front of the vehicle you have just overtaken.

In reply to by James_O

Following too closely

162 (2) The driver of a commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles, when driving on a roadway outside a business or residence district, must not follow within 60 m of another commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles, but this must not be construed to prevent one commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles overtaking and passing another.

I check my rearview mirror then slow down.  This is frustrating and for a new driver probably and a bit scary.  I'm reminding myself that I can control the distance between me and the vehicle merging in front of me.  I make mistakes.  And don't always "actively" drive so I assume others are the same way.

The problem with those Rick August videos (apart from the fact that he likes the sound of his own voice too much) is that they're not really about how to drive so much as 'how to pass a road test' - from his point of view. But there shouldn't be any difference really, successful driving isn't simply a matter of 'play acting' to try and convince the Driver Examiner that you're competent. Frankly, the DE will be able to figure it out regardless, using the criteria that they need to apply.

A good Driving Instructor will realize that their task, essentially, is to make themselves redundant. After all, the student already has a license - a Learner License - with various restrictions applying; the most onerous being that they're not allowed to drive solo, yet. That's why they're taking the test, to get rid of that restriction, by demonstrating the ability to drive safely and legally without instruction or assistance.

In the video, Rick fails to provide information on any of these items:

  • WHY change lanes (should be to maximize space and visibility, and/or to get in the correct lane for the next anticipated maneuver)
  • HOW to use the mirrors? (there should be info on adjustment, and which mirrors are needed)
  • WHY shoulder check? (there should be instruction on the definition of the blind spot that's being checked, along with what the driver is looking for)
  • HOW to shoulder check? (use of peripheral vision)
  • WHY shoulder check twice? (shouldn't be necessary)
  • WHEN to signal? (WHY have it blink three times before moving over, WHY keep it on throughout the whole maneuver?)
  • HOW to determine there's a safe gap to merge into? (no info is provided)

So in my opinion, Rick's 'lesson' is a Fail; particularly so, as - apart from failing to give proper information about crossing solid lines, or painted islands, he does some goofy things himself:

  • Fails to use his left side mirror at all before the first lane change to the left!
  • Stops early in the crosswalk before making that initial left turn, instead of simply continuing into the intersection on the green light!
  • Keeps the signal blinking while passing through intersections!
  • Shoulder checks when moving into a left-turn chute which is a new lane, although he's adjacent to a concrete island!

His advice on maintaining or even increasing speed is good, supplemented by a rationale in this case, and I think he's trying to address the problem that comes up so often with new drivers (and even some experienced, inept drivers) where the driver lifts off the gas in anticipation of the maneuver. But I'm not certain that he understands why people will do this, or how to help them counteract the tendency.

The thing is, a new driver quickly comes to associate slowing before steering, as that's the case with turns and parking maneuvers. So it's almost an automatic reaction - lane changing being a steering maneuver - to lift off the gas beforehand. And of course, because you're trying to move into a gap, you have to be moving at pretty much the same speed as that gap, or everything will move up from behind, making it harder to get the lane change done.

When teaching a new driver, the best approach - once lane changing has been discussed, and perhaps demonstrated - is to simply ask your learner driver, when safely driving in laned traffic, whether they 'could' change lanes, only stressing that you don't want them to do so; it's simply a question. This shows them how to maintain speed while looking in all the right places. If the answer to the question is Yes, then simply tell them to do it. Practice from there.