How To Lane Change In 3 Steps – The Essential Painless Guide

lane changing

If you’re wondering how to lane change, you’re not alone. Lane changing can be quite a difficult thing for a beginner driver to get good at. A lot of beginners tend to slow down to think about things when they’re planning a lane change. Of course this doesn’t work. Let’s get into some helpful pointers on how to safely lane change for new and experienced drivers alike

Jump to a section:

  1. How to Lane Change – Introduction
  2. What Some Drivers Seem To Do
  3. How Can Drivers Improve?
  4. How to Lane Change – The Steps
  5. How to Know If You Have Enough Space
  6. Large Vehicles and Motorcycles
  7. How To Use Your Mirror to Find Enough Space
  8. Signal Your Intent
  9. Two Examples
  10. How to Lane Change on Multi-Lane Roads
  11. The Safe Method For Multi-Lane Roads
  12. Heavy Traffic Situations
  13. Strategic Positioning
  14. Shoulder Check
  15. New / Beginner Driver Issues
  16. Making Your Move
  17. Solid White Lines
  18. Conclusion

How To Lane Change

Are you wondering how to lane change? Normal lane changing procedure usually goes like this:

  1. Mirror
  2. Signal
  3. Shoulder check

First you check your mirror(s) to find an available space beside-ish you. Then, you signal your intentions so that you are letting other drivers know what you are planning to do.

Then, you must shoulder check to make sure there isn’t anything in your blind spot. After all of this is done, you simply look ahead again and gently steer into your new lane while looking where you want to go. I know, I made it sound kind of easy, didn’t I?

Lets Get Into The Details

1) Mirror(s)Opens in a new tab.
2) SignalOpens in a new tab.

(Make sure you understand blind spots and shoulder checking.Opens in a new tab.)

3) Shoulder Check
4) Lane Change & Check Mirror Again

Make sure your side view mirrors are adjusted properly. Opens in a new tab.

What Some People Seem To Do When They Are Learning How to Lane Change

Okay this all sounds very nice, but what else should you know? In my day-to-day observations I often see something like this:

1) Mirror
2) Lane Change

What is wrong with this? How can drivers improve their lane changes?

Lane changing is one of the most difficult things for new learner drivers to master. It seems even experienced drivers don’t find it easy, either.

This is because in lane changing, we often have to multitask. We need space in front. We need space behind. Opens in a new tab.

But we also have to notice things like lights going yellow/red, Opens in a new tab.pedestriansOpens in a new tab. in crosswalks, and other drivers trying to lane changing into the same space.

We also have to judge speedsOpens in a new tab.. Your own speed, the speed of the vehicle in front and behind you.

Those speeds often change due to circumstances.

How to Lane Change: Step-By-Step

1. How to lane change : Check your Mirrors Opens in a new tab.

Check your mirrors: if there is no space in front of you in which to move into, then there is no point in turning on your signal or doing a shoulder check. Opens in a new tab.

Find the space first.

How Do You Know if You Have Enough Space & Why You Need This

I see a lot of drivers cutting off others when doing a lane change.

This is dangerous because it leaves the vehicles no space (minimum 2 second rule) in case of sudden stops (red light, pedestrians, etc.)

It is also seen as being rude and can trigger road rage.

How To Tell If You Have Enough Space

A general guideline I use when teaching new drivers how to tell if they have enough space, is to look in their rear-view mirror.

You need to be able to see the entire front of the vehicle behind you, including its tires touching the pavement, before you can even considering moving over in front of that vehicle.

If you can see that much space in your mirror, then you have a generous and safe amount of space between the vehicles *as long as you are going the same speeds, that is a good guideline.*

If you can NOT see the entire thing in your mirror or the tires – say you can see the windshield, but not the headlights – then don’t do it – You are too close.

(I’m taking about driving at normal speeds. If you are stuck in a traffic jam and you are moving 2 km/hr, then you might have to lane change closer than this in the case where someone else is letting you in).

Some Vehicles Lane Changing
Some Vehicles Lane Changing

Lane Changing Around Large Vehicles & Motorcycles

Lane Changing

This is especially important if the vehicle behind you is a large truck. If you lane change too close, and then suddenly stop, there is a good chance you’ll be rear-ended.

Trucks can not – and will not – stop in the same space that you can. Think about motorcycles as well. They can – and will – stop in a much shorter distance than you.

This means you could potentially rear-end them no matter how bad you don’t want to. So leave extra room in front and behind at all times. It’s motorcycle season all year in Vancouver.

Read more:

It should look something like the following photo, you want to see the whole vehicle + the tires touching the pavement.

This is about 3-4 car lengths usually. If you don’t believe me, park your car in front of another car and Get Out And Look (GOAL…. LOL)

See at least this much space in the mirror (the entire car & tires touching pavement; more for a truck or larger vehicle)

how to lane change

Signal Your Intent

Signal: Many people seem to think that the only reason they need to signal is to avoid getting a traffic ticket and paying a fine.

Think about it though.

You may know where you’re going, but others around you probably have no idea. Most of them are probably not physic.

This is fine as long as the roads aren’t too busy, or don’t have too many lanes.

But if you don’t signal, and someone assumes you’re going straight because you don’t have a signal (and that is a logical assumption, isn’t it?) then you can easily get into trouble.

You should signal at least a few seconds before you actually shoulder check and move your vehicle.

This leaves some time going by that can warn other people that you are seriously thinking about moving your vehicle.

If someone else has a problem with your intentions (such as a motorcycle or a car you did not notice riding in your blind spot) then there will be some time for them to honk to alert you of their existence.

blind spot
Blind Spot

If you simply signal at the exact same time as you move over (which I also see is happening quite a lot) then there will be no time for anyone to alert you of the danger, and essentially your turn signal was 100% useless.

How To Lane Change – Think About These Two Examples

Say this little blue/green car is parked. It wants to enter the traffic. The red car in the left lane also wants to lane change around this time.

If neither car has a signal, because they thinks there is no potential conflict from anyone else, then they could potentially have a crash.

If they both signal their intentions before they move, even if one of them displays a signal, then the situation will be much safer.

How To Lane Change on Multi-Lane Roads

Also, what about this problem? When you’re driving on a road that has multiple lanes (as in, more than 2 in your direction) then you really need to time it so that when you are planning your lane change, there is not a car in the same position on the road 2 lanes over.

That driver, like you, may be thinking that it’s also a wonderful time for them to move over into the middle lane. Great minds think alike, after all.

Remember: a collision is simply when two or more things try to enter the same Space at the same Time.

In this case, signals may be useless. Signals are nice but they’re only useful if the other drivers can actually see them, right?

To be a defensive driver, you need to slow down or speed up or wait a bit longer until you aren’t in this precarious position.

Never assume, “Oh, it’s fine.”

how to lane change on multi lane road

How To Lane Change – This is The Way to Go

Just as a reminder, you control your car and you control the speed of your car. You are driving your car, your car is not driving you.

This means you actually do control your space and spacing within the other vehicles. You can intentionally and strategically position your vehicle so that even if the other car changes lanes at the same time, it’s totally fiiine.

Heavy Traffic Situations : How to Lane Change

In cases when you’re in heavy traffic, you’ll have to signal first. People have no idea that you would like to lane change, unless you tell them.

In this case, you can signal first and leave the signal on, drive along for a bit and see if the car next to you will widen the gap for you.

Strategic Positioning

This works best if you get your car into a strategic position of making it easy for the car next to you to help you.

People are very nice about this, if you ask nicely, and if you set it up nicely.

Maybe a lot of people won’t go out of their way for you (and should they have to?); if you set it up properly, it should be easy for all.  

Make sure you’re in a position that the other driver can see your signal. If you are right beside another car, there is no way the driver is going to see your signal:

How To Lane Change: Strategic Vehicle Positioning

Yes, there are even more tips on how to lane change. Get your car just a bit in front of the car so that they can see your signal – you want your turn signal light to be kind of flashing in front of their face, like a twinkling star in the cool and crispy night sky.

That is the most obvious and the best way to get their attention

how to lane change in heavy traffic

In this case, the yellow car is saying to the blue car, “Excuse me, I would like to do a lane change sometime relatively soon, but I don’t have enough space. Could you please be so kind as to make the space in front of you a little bit bigger, by slightly easing off your gas pedal for a few moments?”

I know, I know. Canadians. We’re so friendly it hurts.

If you are the person driving the blue car, it’s very simple to ease off your accelerator and allow the car enough room.

I have taught people how to do lane changes in this manner regularly and with ease. People are usually very happy to help you, especially when you made it easy for them.

You must be going the exact same speeds, otherwise, it’s not going to work. Make sure you wait a few seconds after you put your signal on – until you can see the entire car in the mirror as mentioned – to make sure you aren’t cutting them off.

Remember to keep your eyes moving to watch the traffic in front of you in case of red/yellow lights or sudden unexpected stops.

If the car lets you in, say thanks with a wave. If he doesn’t, then you can not lane change.

Try again with a different car. Legally, you must not lane change until it is safe. He who leaves his lane and crashes into something who was minding their own business in another lane, will be found at fault for lane changing collisions.

If you leave your lane and get into a crash, then it will be your fault. If 2 cars both leave their lane at the same time and have a crash, then the fault will be 50/50.

Shoulder Check

Shoulder Check. This should take less than 1 second and you should be moving your head only (not your whole body or shoulders).

Most cars have a blind spot out the rear passenger window area on each side of the vehicle. If your car has the fancy new blind spot warning system, well then you may have a good argument against shoulder checking.

Taking your eyes off the road for any period of time is considered dangerous. That’s because things can and do change within split seconds. That’s why we must use the mirrors first, and then make the shoulder check very quick.

Maybe you’re sure there’s nothing there, in the blind spot. But what if one day you are wrong?

If it saves a life, is it worth it? Remember that we can not undo car crashes. If we’re going to stop them, we have to prevent them before they had a chance.

New Driver Issues

*New drivers often shoulder check and move into the new lane at the exact same time.

Please be aware of this issue when learning and practice doing these steps one after the other, not all at the same time.

You should be staying 100% completely in your lane while shoulder checking.

Then, look forward again. Then, move over while looking where you’re going.

How To Lane Change – Make Your Move

Move into your new lane! Check your rear-view mirrorOpens in a new tab. again to see what’s going on in your new lane.

How is the vehicle behind? Are they too close? Should you leave more room in front of you? Is there an emergency vehicle approaching?

Solid White Lines

*Keep in mind it’s illegal to lane change over a solid white line. Avoid lane changing in intersections (not actually illegal, but not a good idea either).

How To Lane Change – Conclusion

Lane changing can be difficult for new and experienced drivers alike. This is because of a few things, one of which being the need to multitask.

You need to judge speed and distances, that are in front and behind you, at the same time, and keep your other eye – not that you have that – on where you’re going.

There are also yellow lights, and cars that drive at spontaneous, sporadic, and/or erratic speed patterns that can complicate everything, like, seriously. It just ain’t easy. However, with practice it gets easier, just like everything else.



Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

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