Stage 4: Changing Lanes on the Highway


Location: Highway
Length of Lesson: 15-20 minutes

Recognize the speed differences between lanes

Changing lanes on the highway can be particularly challenging due to the high speeds as well as the relative difference in speeds between lanes. For instance, the traffic on the far left lane may be traveling 75 mph whereas the traffic in the middle lane may be traveling 65mph and the far right lane, 55mph. This is foreign to new drivers who are accustomed to driving on city streets in which all lanes of traffic are traveling at approximately the same speed.

Changing Lanes.jpg

You Must React Quickly

Just as we discussed in the article on merging, gaps in traffic can close quickly on the highway. New drivers are shocked to find that a gap that was open five seconds ago is now occupied by a fast-approaching truck or car. That’s why changing lanes on the highway requires several steps:

  • Find a gap in traffic in the lane you wish to move into.
  • Activate your turn signal.
  • Check traffic ahead of and behind you to ensure it is clear.
  • Check traffic one lane over from the lane you’re going to move into to make sure no other car is trying to move into the same spot. This is extremely important.
  • Use the side mirror to ensure that your blind spot is clear. If you’re using the <BGE mirror settings> (which we strenuously recommend), you don’t need to do an over-the-shoulder check. Personally, I believe that the over-the-shoulder check is dangerous because new drivers tend to inadvertently turn the wheel in the direction they look. Plus, it requires turning your entire field of vision away from the direction you’re traveling. Proponents of this method suggest that, well, it’s only for a second. They say that it’s just a “quick glance”. Well, then what good is it? A quick glance isn’t long enough to determine what a car is doing (if it’s changing direction or speed). It only tells you if a car is located where you’ve looked. Well, if you use the BGE mirror setting, you obtain the exact same information without the dangerous side-effects of an over-the-shoulder glance. Of course, there’s nothing illegal about the over-the-shoulder glance, so if it makes you feel more comfortable, go ahead and do it.
  • Quickly move into the new lane.
  • Turn off your turn signal.

Should My Teen Accelerate When They Move Into a New Lane?

There are certain incontrovertible rules in driving such as “Do not go on Red”. There are a lot of people who believe, with a fierce tenacity, that you should always accelerate when changing lanes on the highway. Who came up with this? You should base the speed at which you change lanes upon the traffic conditions!

Now, I understand why people believe this: if you’re moving from a lane that is traveling 60mph into a lane that is also traveling 60mph, you will need to slightly increase your speed in order to maintain your position in the flow of traffic as you change lanes. This is because your car is slightly angled away from straight ahead while you change lanes. And obviously, if you’re moving from a lane that is traveling 55mph into a lane that is traveling 65mph, you will need to accelerate during the lane change in order to keep up with the flow of traffic. But, what about moving from a lane that is traveling 65mph into a lane that is traveling 55mph. Should you still accelerate? No! You should probably take your foot off the accelerator and cover the brake as you change lanes.

Talk Your Teen Through the Lane Change

With most new tasks on the highway, you need to talk your teen through the decision-making process of changing lanes. For the first several lane changes, you should double-check all of their mirrors to make sure that the lane they’re moving into is indeed clear.

Continue on to Passing on a Divided Highway


5 Responses to “Stage 4: Changing Lanes on the Highway”

  1. Nesmah on February 22nd, 2009 11:41 am


    Can you advise what to do if we need tio change lane and traffic in the other lane is coming so fast and there are no gaps enough to change lane?


  2. admin on August 17th, 2009 4:14 pm

    @Nesmah – You must wait until there is a gap in traffic. Do not force you way into traffic. Keep your turn signal activated and keep looking for a gap. If you do not find a gap, you may have to drive past your turn and turn around further down the road. You never want to force your way into another lane. The drivers in the other lane do not have an obligation to let you into their lane. That’s why it is important to move into a turn lane as early as possible.

  3. Loulou on September 22nd, 2009 8:11 pm


    is there any trick that would indicate to me that I have sufficent gap space in the other lane for changing lane (like seeing (or not) the headlights, front bumper, front wheels of the nearest vehicule in the next lane)?


  4. Ben on October 15th, 2009 4:48 am

    You say not to do a shoulder check since the mirrors should be properly adjusted that blind spots are eliminated, but I beg to differ. First, If you have done any minor mirror or seat adjustments, the mirrors may not be 100% and you may be unaware of a vehicle next to you. Secondly, while this mirror setting eliminates the blind spot directly next to you, there is still a blind spot in the lanes beyond that. Worse, this blind spot is right where a vehicle could merge in the gap you’re about to take, thus leading to a side by side collision!

    With that said, I would not focus on what is happening two or more lanes away, but I would be aware of it. Thing is, traffic over multiple lanes is moving a such a different rate of speed that if you spend too much time trying to manage it, your gap may close or you could crash into the car in front of you since you are spreading your attention so thin. Since most traffic is not changing lanes, when you do your shoulder if a vehicle is changing lanes beside you, it will stand out and clearly catch your attention.

    The way I change lanes is I turn my signal on first, check my mirrors to ensure I can merge safely, check my blind spot to make sure my mirrors didn’t miss anything and IF I notice there is a car two or more lanes away traveling at the same speed I make sure its turn signal is off and/or it is not merging closer to me, look forward again to make sure I am leaving space and driving properly, then check my mirrors and blind spot again while I merge to make sure it is a clean maneuver.

  5. admin on November 2nd, 2009 6:19 pm

    @Loulou – One “trick” commonly used is if you can see the trailing car’s headlights in your rearview mirror, you have sufficient space.

    @Ben – I appreciate both sides of the over-the-shoulder-look debate. Yes, with the BGE setting, there are still blind spots, albeit very small (not big enough for a car to hide in). If used in concert with your rear view mirror, you shouldn’t have any problems. Also, if you’ve made minor seat or mirror adjustments, you should take the few seconds to re-check your mirrors and make sure they are properly aligned. I realize that many people believe that the over-the-shoulder look is for “peace of mind”, but please do so carefully. It’s very easy for new drivers to turn the wheel while looking over their shoulder. Also, it’s just as easy to miss a car in an adjacent lane with an over-the-shoulder look as it is with a glance to your mirror.

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