Drivesmart column: Making safe lane changes

Mirror, signal, shoulder check, move.

By Tim Schewe

Mirror, signal, shoulder check, move.

These are the four steps for a successful lane change. 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.

Unless a lane change is 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 a lane change. That signal, made before you begin to change, must be made for long enough that the drivers around you realize your intent.

The gap in traffic that you want to move into must be large enough. Ideally, you need at least a four 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 centre rear view mirror? Don’t jam your vehicle into the space, leave your signal light on and monitor the gap.

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.

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.”

“Tell the other drivers that it’s illegal to change lanes 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!

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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