Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes and Passing

The ability to change lanes safely is a critical skill on the road. There are many situations where you will either be required to do so. In addition to this, you may at some point feel strongly compelled to change lanes when there is a slower driver or bicyclist in your path.

Never attempt to change lanes, merge or pass when…

  • On hills or curves
  • Crossing intersections or railroads
  • When you will cross over a solid yellow or white line pavement marking

cars merging lanes on highway

Move in the Same Direction as Traffic

The first thing to remember is that the right lane is dedicated to slower moving traffic, while the left lane is dedicated to passing traffic. With this in mind, you should always pass on the left side of them unless they have indicated that they intend to make a left turn. In this situation, the lane that you will be moving into has traffic moving in the same direction as you. You can easily identify this by the white dashed line that separates the lanes. After deciding that you will be changing lanes, be sure you have ample following distance. We recommend following the two-second rule.

Two-Second Rule

  • Watch the vehicle ahead of you pass a fixed point (such as an overpass, corner, sign or other marker)
  • After they pass it, begin counting. Remember, two seconds is the length of time it takes to say “One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi”.
  • If you pass the marker before completing the two second count, increase the distance between your vehicle and the one ahead and recount.
  • When you are driving in poor weather conditions where there is rain, smoke or fog, double or triple your following distance.

After you have a good following distance, communicate your intentions with other drivers. This means: turn your blinker on! When you intend to change lanes, get into a habit of signaling 100 feet before you change lanes so drivers nearby will anticipate it and can plan accordingly. Ideally, you should give yourself more than just two seconds. In fact, most states are now recommending a three or four second rule to be used!

In a comprehensive study by the Society of Automotive Engineers, it was identified that drivers neglect to use their turn signals over 2 billion times per day in the United States. While not every absent turn signal will result in an accident, it increases the risk significantly. In fact, the study concludes that turn signal neglect could be responsible for as many as 2 million crashes per year (Ponziani, 2012). Don’t leave your safety up to chance. Other drivers can’t guess what you will decide to do, so it is up to you to make smart choices that will protect you and your passengers while you are on the road.

After you have signaled, the last thing you should do is check your blind spots. In general, cars have two blind spots. Properly adjusted mirrors can greatly reduce the size of your blind spot. However, the most effective way to make sure that your blind spot is clear is to perform a shoulder-check. All that entails is quickly looking over your shoulder through your vehicle’s windows in the direction of your blind spot. If you still have a safe following distance, have signaled your turn and are positive that your blind spots are clear, you can gradually move your vehicle to the left lane.


Ponziani, Richard. (2012). RLP Engineering. Epidemic Turn Signal Neglect Rate Now Approaching 50%, Causing Millions of Crashes per Year.


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