Have you ever wondered which lane is safest to use on a highway? There is no single right answer. Each lane has advantages and disadvantages.
The right lane:
- Allows you to travel at a slower speed.
- Provides easy access to exit ramps.
- Enables you to use the shoulder to your right, an open lane to your left, or other options as escape routes.
- Places you in greater proximity to vehicles merging onto the road from entrance ramps, which can require you to continually alter your speed to compensate.
The center lane:
- Allows you to travel at a more moderate speed than the left lane.
- Avoids the interruption of vehicles merging in from entrance ramps.
- Is only one lane away from exit ramps, making it easier to depart the highway.
- Gives you access to escape routes via the travel lanes to your right and left.
- Makes you more susceptible to other drivers changing lanes near you abruptly or unsafely (since you have a lane to either side of you).
The left lane:
- Avoids the interruption of drivers merging onto the road from the right.
- Often gives you access to escape routes to the left (such as a median) and the right (a center lane).
- Is traveled by motorists driving at a higher speed, which may make you more likely to be tailgated when obeying the speed limit.
- Is further from the exit ramps, requiring you to change lanes multiple times when you need to exit.
Which lane should you choose? Speed of travel should be an important factor in your decision. Choose a lane that allows you to travel at a speed you feel comfortable with (and within the posted speed limit), so you’re not continually making lane changes to let tailgaters pass you.
Remember that in some areas it’s illegal to use the far-left lane as a travel lane because it has been designated for passing only.
Keeping in Your Lane
No matter what lane you choose to travel in, it’s essential that you stay in the center of your lane and only change lanes when it is safe to do so. Staying centered in your lane minimizes the odds that you’ll veer into a vehicle in an adjacent lane.
Unfortunately, problems like distraction and fatigue can cause you to lose control of the vehicle and drift into another lane, putting you and others in harm’s way.
Advances in technology are helping drivers avoid drifting into other lanes inadvertently. For instance, lane departure warning systems are making their way into more and more vehicles. These systems alert you if you drift close to the right or left edge of your lane, either through an audible alert or by making the steering wheel or driver’s seat vibrate. Once you’ve been alerted, it’s up to you to take corrective action.
A more advanced technology known as lane assist or lane departure prevention goes a step further and takes corrective action for you by automatically making steering adjustments to correct your position in the lane. More and more drivers are disabling a vehicle’s safety features, which is a dangerous practice.
Regardless of whether your vehicle comes equipped with these features, it’s vital that you make every effort to stay in your lane on a highway. Automakers are always working to refine and improve features, there also may be cases when it’s more a matter of learning how the feature works and getting used to it.
Changing Lanes Safely
It’s common to see vehicles darting in and out of lanes. But this aggressive habit puts the driver and everyone nearby at risk of a collision. Lane-changing crashes also occur when motorists don’t accurately judge how close a vehicle in the next lane is or how quickly it’s traveling. If a vehicle is closer than you think or moving faster than you think, changing lanes could cause a collision.
Switching lanes carefully is critical on multi-lane roads. But factors such as distraction, failure to scan properly, failure to plan, and impatience all can result in unsafe lane changes. When changing lanes on a highway, follow these safe practices:
- Keep your mirrors adjusted so that you have a clear view of the adjacent lanes. A proper mirror position reduces your blind spots and provides the best view.
- Avoid doing anything that could distract you from the driving task, especially as you’re preparing to change lanes.
- Scan your entire driving environment thoroughly before moving out of your lane. Use your side-view mirrors and rear-view mirror and look over your shoulder to ensure it is safe.
- Signal your intent before you begin to move into the other lane. Using your turn signal alerts nearby motorists that you intend to switch lanes.
- Assess the situation before changing lanes. It’s never a good idea to switch lanes when you’re coming up on a traffic signal, in a road construction zone, or when pedestrians are nearby.
- Remain patient while determining whether it’s safe to change lanes. Many crashes occur when a driver is in a hurry and doesn’t take the time to ensure it’s safe to move to another lane.
- Don’t cut it close when changing lanes; if you dart right in front of another vehicle you could cause a rear-end collision. As you pass the other driver, a good rule-of thumb is to make sure you can see the entire vehicle in your rear-view mirror before moving into the lane.
- Don’t wait until you’re close to your exit to start moving to the right. Know how far ahead your exit is and begin to plan your exit by moving over early. Doing so will keep you from cutting in front of other vehicles unsafely.
Did You Know?
Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces have “Move Over” laws designed for the safety of law enforcement officers and emergency responders. Typically, these laws state that if a police officer or emergency responder is on the roadside stopping a vehicle or assisting a driver, and you’re traveling in the lane nearest that side of the road, you must move to a lane further away as you pass. If you’re not able to move to the next lane because of traffic, you’re required to slow while staying in your lane. Proper scanning will ensure you know if a police officer or emergency responder is on the side of the road ahead.
Not sure if a Move Over law exists where you live or travel?
Judie Nuskey is the director of operations at Advanced Driver Training Services (ADTS) and assists corporations in creating custom driver training programs to lower (or keep low) their crash rates.