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.

24 thoughts on “How To Lane Change In 3 Steps – The Essential Painless Guide

  1. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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..

      1. 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

          1. 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

  2. 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?

  3. 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!


    1. 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..

  4. Thanks for the tips changing lanes while driving; that can be a hard thing to do when in busy traffic. Someone recently told me that changing lanes was one of the main causes of auto accidents. I agree that you should position your car in a place that will allow other drivers to see your signal; that way they know what you are trying to do.

  5. So when changing lanes I look at my rearview mirror and if I can see the entire vehicle and its tires in the lane im trying to change into it is generally safe to go in?

    1. Yes generally; check the blind spot of course. Also, consider the speed of the vehicles. IF the other vehicle is proceeding faster than you are, then it’s probably not going to work! Otherwise, go for it. If you park your car somewhere so that you can see the entire vehicle of a parked car behind yours and then get out and see how much space is there, you will find that it is much larger than it looks in the mirror.. an acceptable distance so ensure safety so that if you change lanes and then have to stop (for a red light for example) then the car behind has enough room it won’t rear end you, will be able to stop in time and also, it’s not rude (you are not “cutting them off”)
      Hope that helps..

          1. So then you would actually be looking into your side mirror to see the front of the car and its tires in the lane next to you?? NOT the rear view mirror that allows you to see directly behind you.

            1. Hi… well you can see the vehicle in both mirrors, but I would use the rear-view mirror as the guide… so if you can see the entire vehicle in your rear-view mirror then it’s enough space.. the side mirrors are often convex (distorted).

              1. But we should still be using our side mirrors of course? Because there are cars that go out of frame from the rear view and show up in the side only.

  6. Hi. Im a new driver and I have some questions if you could help.

    1. So if you see no car in your passenger side window when checking your blind spot, that means its ok to go?

    2. What if a car isn’t next to you but really close to the back of your bumper and you can’t speed up cause you’re driving the speed limit of 30mph, do you slow down to let them pass you? (I thought its bad to slow down to change lanes) but I don’t see any other way.

    3. So if you check your rear view mirror into the lane you want to go into and you see their headlights + tire, you’re good? I heard some people use their side mirrors for this method too but it’s not a true view so why do we need to check our side mirrors for changing lanes?

    Thank you.

    1. Hmm, it is kind of difficult to teach lane changing over the internet, let alone to learn it in real life. It is quite a difficult skill for a lot of new drivers to learn; lessons can help a lot.
      1. Well not necessarily! There could be speeding traffic coming from behind you or in the other lane. You have to be aware of what is going on around your car all the time. Things change very quickly too. One moment there may be no traffic and the next moment there may be a speeding car coming behind you.

      2. In this case I would recommend using your turn signal! Let the car know you want to lane change, otherwise, he doesn’t know. You’re right you won’t want to speed.. Sometimes you might slow down a little bit, preferably you signal and create the space first and then move over going the same speed as traffic.

      3. Not necessarily. This is a general guideline. It all depends on the speed of the cars. If the car behind you is going much faster than you then this isn’t going to work. If you are going the same speed and you also check mirrors and do a shoulder check to make sure there is nothing in the blind spot then this is a good guideline to ensure there’s enough space between the vehicles before you move, just in case you change lanes and need to stop for a yellow light, pedestrian or any other reason, this gives the vehicle behind you his proper 2-3 second of following distance needed for safety. Different mirrors show you different views, so it’s good to check the rear-view and also the side mirror to find adequate space. And of course don’t forget the shoulder check! Remember there are still small vehicles and motorcycles that could hide in your blind spot very easily.

  7. I always turn my whole body to shoulder check, and I tend to shoulder check and simultaneously move into the next lane. I guess I’m afraid that after doing the shoulder check, a car might suddenly appear.

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