Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

You can’t talk about safe driving without mentioning how to make a proper lane change. The essential elements that make a safe lane change ultimately serve as the components for safe driving, and they are always applicable in any amount of traffic.

Intention is the first step to take in making a proper lane change. “The first thing you’re going to do is signal. That’s a lost art. You have to signal your intent, check the area, check your mirror, do the glance over your shoulder, and, if it’s clear, then merge in,” said Phil Moser, vice president of Advanced Driver Training Services (ADTS).

Scanning is the second step to a safe lane change. Making the over-the-shoulder glance is a procedure that Moser suggests drivers do every time they change lanes and merge. Moser also suggests to check your mirrors every 5 to 7 seconds. However, the intervals of checking your mirrors may vary depending on the amount of traffic.

“You may have a tendency to check around you more often in heavier traffic, because there is a chance things are going to change more quickly, but drivers should take a positive glance over their shoulders before making a lane change no matter what,” said Moser.

Not following these basic steps is when drivers can get into trouble and be involved in a crash. “Let’s say you’re in lane three, you’re trying to merge into the center lane, and you just look in the center lane (and see there are no cars), there could be somebody shooting up from lane one, and merging in just as you are,” said Moser. “So you have to scan all lanes of travel.”

Scanning Your Surroundings

Constant scanning is only part of the equation of avoiding a crash while changing lanes.

“The two basic principles to avoid crashes is the 360-degree scan, and then knowing your escape space,” said Moser.

Knowing where your escape space is important due to how little time there is to react to a potential accident.

“You have three escapes spaces: to the right, to the left, or to the front — your stopping distance,” said Moser.

Moser said there are ultimately only four things a driver can do to handle a vehicle that is encroaching his or her lane: steer, break, accelerate, or sound the horn.

“If someone is trying to merge toward my rear, if I can accelerate and get away from them I will. But if someone is trying to merge in, and they’re toward my front, I’m probably going to go on the brake. But you have to watch out for the person behind you,” said Moser.

Reducing the Blind Spot

Drivers who are changing lanes, particularly in dynamic situations, such as highways, need to make sure that their mirrors are properly aligned prior to getting on the road.

To properly adjust their mirrors, drivers should place the left side of their head against the driver side window while sitting in their vehicles, and adjust the mirror on the driver’s side, so that their vehicle is barely visible in the mirror. If done correctly, the side of the vehicle should not be visible in the driver’s side mirror, said Moser. He also suggested drivers adjust their side mirrors to be angled out 15 degrees to help diminish the size of their blind spot.

For the passenger side, the mirror should be altered with the driver’s head in the center of the cabin (in line with the inside rearview mirror) and adjusted in the same way, where the driver can barely see the vehicle down alongside the vehicle.