How to Lane Change While Driving [Instructor Gets Deep]

Welcome to How to Lane Change

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.

Preparing for your ICBC road test? Be sure to check out my epic article: ICBC Road Test Tips For Classes 5 & 7 [Instructor Gets Deep].

Why do drivers need to learn how to lane change?

  • Mostly because we are not supposed to turn right from the left lane, or turn left from the right lane

How To Lane Change

Are you wondering how to lane change? The normal lane-changing procedure usually goes like this:

  1. Mirror
  2. Signal
  3. Shoulder check

Mirror(s), Signal

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.

Shoulder Check

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. Check your mirror once in your new lane to make sure your new lane is still under control. I know, I made it sound kind of easy, didn’t I?

Why is Changing Lanes So Difficult?

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 the actual space in front of our new lane to move into
  • We need space behind us so that the traffic behind has enough room and doesn’t rear-end us if we need to stop
  • But we also have to notice things like lights going yellow or red
  • Pedestrians in crosswalks
  • Other drivers trying to lane change into the same space as you
  • We also have to judge speeds. Your own speed, the speed of the vehicle in front and behind you
  • Those speeds naturally change due to circumstances
  • Oh, and we are supposed to be noticing everything that we are normally supposed to be noticing all at the same time. It can be a lot when you’re new at driving

How to Lane Change: Step-By-Step

Check your Mirrors

If there is no space in front of you in which to move, then there is no point in turning on your signal or doing a shoulder check. Find the space to move into first.

How Do You Know if You Have Enough Space

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

This is dangerous because it leaves the vehicles no space in case of sudden stops (red light, pedestrians, etc.) It is also seen as being rude and can trigger road rage.

General guidelines for finding 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.

What to see in the 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 consider 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 speed, 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.

Lane Changing Around Large Vehicles & Motorcycles

lane changing around large vehicles and motorcycles
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Trucks Can’t Stop Like Cars Do

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 at 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.

safe lane changing around motorcycles
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It should look something like the following photo, you want to see the whole vehicle and the tires touching the pavement in your rear-view mirror.

This is about three or four 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 tell if you have enough space to lane change safely
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Signal Your Intent

Here’s the funny thing about the turn 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. So they just put it on at the same time as the lane change to basically cover themselves; so they can say that they did it.

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. If you can’t find the space because there are too many cars, you can signal first. Drivers can help you much better when they know where you would like to go; where you plan to go; where, as a driver, you are thinking about going.

Mirror, signal shoulder check lane changing tutorial
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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 for lane changing safely
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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 think 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.

lane changing tips and tricks
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How To Lane Change on Multi-Lane Roads

When you’re driving on a road that has multiple lanes 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 two lanes over.

That driver, like you, maybe thinks 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 and all, 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. As drivers, we really do need to intentionally avoid “precarious positions.”

Never assume, “Oh, it’s probably fine.”

how to lane change on multi lane road
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Safe Lane Changing Tips

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 fine and safe.

safe lane changing tips
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How to Lane Change in Heavy Traffic

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. This is very simple for them to do.

Strategic Positioning for Lane Changing

This works best if you get your car into a strategic position of making it easy for the car (I mean, the driver) next to you to help you. People are actually good 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 where 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:

lane changing in heavy traffic
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How To Lane Change: Strategic Vehicle Positioning

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 safely
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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 accelerator 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.

Fault in Lane Changing Collisions

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 two cars both leave their lane at the same time and have a crash, then the fault will likely be 50/50.

Shoulder Check for Lane Changing, Always

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

Most cars have a blind spot out of 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 practicing 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 at where you’re going.

How To Lane Change – Make Your Move

Move into your new lane! Check your rear-view mirror 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 when Lane Changing

*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 is 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. It does take about five years for a new driver to get to the skill level of the average driver.


Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor in beautiful North Vancouver at the age of 22 due to some crazy people who agreed to hire her. After that, there was never a dull moment teaching many different folks from many different places how to drive using automatic and standard vehicles and a minivan.

24 thoughts on “How to Lane Change While Driving [Instructor Gets Deep]

  • Oscar

    Hello i have a question when you look at your rearview mirror to see the whole vehicle with the tire touching the pavement is it just the vehicle directly behind you or is it both the vehicle directly behind you and the one in the lane you want to go to that you have to see the tires touching the pavement

    • Carmen

      Hi, good question, it’s for any vehicle that you want to lane change in front of… in other words the car in your ‘new’ lane you plan to move into… it’s a good minimum guideline.

    • Carmen

      It’s just hard to get a photo of that so I used a parked car in my photo example because it kinda looks the same-ish..

      • Oscar

        ok Thanks but what if the car behind you is signaling to turn into the lane you want to go into then do you have to see it with the tires touching the pavement too because if you don’t see it with the tires touching the pavement then you won’t be able to see the signals that it’s changing lanes into the lane you want to go into

        • Carmen

          Yeah, sometimes the car behind you has the exact same idea as you, so you do have to be careful about that

          • Oscar

            yeah so based on what I said so are you saying I have to see the vehicle with the tires touching the pavement of the vehicle behind me as well as to the sides I’m changing lanes too since you have to know if the vehicle behind you might be signaling to go into the lane you want to go into

  • breddi

    The thumb rule you mentioned regarding seeing tyres and front of the vehicle (from rear-view mirror) is spot on.

    I am a new driver, and want to understand what “signs” to look for in the side mirrors before it is safe to move? How do we know if we can change lanes even if we see a car in one of the side mirrors?

  • Hello,

    I’m a relatively new driver, I have got a lot better through many practices. However, today when I drove on a boulevard with 3 lanes, I almost had a near miss as I tried to change lane to the right. I have a habit that my hand would unconsciously steer slightly to the opposite direction when I shoulder check to change lane. Today, I tried to change lane to the right: I signaled, checked side mirror, then went ahead to shoulder check, when I turned my head back, I realized the left side car wheels already passed the left edge of my lane going into the left lane. Luckily, there were no cars behind me on the left lane. This happened to me before (the car only slided a little to the left in my own lane), but it was never this bad. Do you have any tips or advice? I definitely don’t want this to happen again ever, especially on a high way!


    • This is common. Just keep practicing and tell your hands not to move the wheel at all when you shoulder check. You can also practice the shoulder check when the car is parked, focus on what your hands are doing. Sometimes that helps. You could also practice very quick shoulder checks when driving without the intention of a lane change, and see if you can do that without while keeping the wheel straight..

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