Safe Driving and Sharing and Changing Lanes


Changing lanes is a simple movement from one lane to another on roads with two or more lanes in the same direction. Road users change lanes to overtake another vehicle, to avoid a parked vehicle or obstruction or when the vehicle ahead slows to turn at an intersection.

Changing lanes without thoughtfulness is not only a threat to the safety of all road users but has often been the source of much frustration. Unsafe and inconsiderate lane changes are bad and inconsiderate driving. It can be dangerous, a road rage trigger in some drivers, leads to arguments and cars fighting for the same space.

In this section we would like to consider effective lane changing techniques and why this is so important for road safety.

Road Crashes caused by Unsafe Lane Changes

Where do they occur?

  • These crashes most often occur on higher volume multi-lane roads (such as motorways and urban arterial roads).
  • Also regularly found where there is a roadside activity (such as roadside markets or locations where public transport vehicles/taxis pick up and drop off passengers).
  • The severity of the collision between the vehicles is often low, due to reduced speeds. However, where vehicles or road users of different size collide, the consequences can be very severe (e.g. motorcyclist and car, car and truck).

What are the most prevalent contributing factors of this crash type?

  • Driver Fatigue /Tiredness
  • Distracted Driving and Inattention
  • Impatience
  • Driving under the Influence / alcohol/drugs/medication impairment.
  • Information overload (too many driving decisions to be made at once).
  • Lack of familiarity with the route.
  • Poor visibility, including ‘blind spots' and poor weather conditions.

Road related causes include:

  • Unexpected or poor lane drop-offs or merge areas.
  • Roadside activity / Construction.
  • Poor directional signs or lane markings.

Safe, Responsible and Defensive Driving when Sharing Multiple Lanes

Safe, Responsible and Defensive Driving when Sharing Multiple Lanes

  • Road users should be patient with other drivers, particularly those who drive at slower than average speeds.
  • Share roads with kindness and courtesy to other road users.
  • In South Africa, the left lane is designed to be the primary driving lane. The right lane is intended to be used by motorists to safely pass other vehicles that are travelling at a slower speed than they are.
  • Be mindful of those around you and observe the different speeds of the cars in the other lanes.
  • Road users should not drive in the right lane for an extended period of time or long distance for any reason.
  • All drivers should surrender the right lane to approaching emergency vehicles. Emergency vehicles always have the right of way.
  • It is never safe to weave in and out of traffic by continuously changing lanes. You are more likely to cause a collision, especially in heavy traffic or bad weather.
  • Watch out for drivers not changing lanes properly – they endanger you and themselves.
  • Drive defensively and with anticipation.
  • Remain vigilant, focusing on driving and only driving when changing lanes, especially in dense traffic.
  • If your car has lane departure warning/assistance systems – switch them on!
  • Remember to take the necessary time when changing lanes and never change lanes too hastily. Plan ahead!
  • If you have a SatNav/ GPS device there is even less of an excuse for not planning early enough as the map will show junctions and roundabouts coming up that you may not be able to see yet.

Sharing and Changing Lanes.. Stay Left Unless Overtaking #ArriveAlive

What NOT to do when changing lanes

  • Ask yourself - Is it legal, is it safe is it necessary?"
  • The presence of a solid white line lane divider indicates that lane changes are prohibited.
  • Do not cross more than 1 lane at once. If you need to cross multiple lanes, do it one-by-one and check carefully prior to each lane change.
  • Don’t change lanes in or near an intersection. Remember that spending a few seconds behind another vehicle is often safer than going around it.
  • Stay away from any distractions when changing lanes and remain completely alert and vigilant.
  • Don’t cut into the way of other drivers. Be Extra cautious when sharing the road with heavy vehicles and in adverse weather conditions.
  • Be respectful to the following distance of other vehicles. The correct gap would be one determined by the 2- second rule (on faster roads) or approximately 2 to 4 car lengths (at the lower speeds) in dry weather.
  • Don't neglect to use your indicators when changing lanes
  • Using your indicator does not mean it is safe to change lanes - Give the proper signal and look to make sure the move can be made safely.
  • Don’t do last second lane changes or exits – you must plan your moves in time!

How do we Change Lanes Safely?

Basic lane changing procedure when passing a slower vehicle:

  • When you find yourself behind another vehicle that is driving at a slower speed than you are and you are still driving below the posted speed limit, you may briefly change lanes in order to pass the car.
  • After making sure that no other objects obstruct your path and there are no rapidly approaching vehicles from the rear in the lane you intend to move into, use your vehicle's turn signal to indicate your intention to change lanes.
  • Check your rear view and side mirrors for other vehicles currently in the lane in which you are planning to move to.
  • Check your vehicle’s blind spot. It is very important to check your blind spot ever time you prepare to change lanes. Check your mirrors again.
  • Remain alert to the presence of vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists who might be lane splitting.
  • The front of any vehicle to your side should be clearly visible in your rearview mirror before you move into the lane ahead of them so as to not cut them off
  • While maintaining your speed, smoothly steer right so that your vehicle leaves the existing lane and move into the right lane.
  • Turn off your turn signal /indicator. Briefly, continue driving in the right lane as you pass the slower vehicle.
  • Turn on your left turn signal/ indicator to inform other drivers of your intentions to move back into your previous lane [ left lane or centre lane].
  • Check mirrors again to ensure that it is safe to change lanes.
  • When you are given the space to change lanes, thank the driver for their courtesy.

Responsible Sharing and Changing Lanes... Not Hogging the Overtaking Lane #ArriveAlive

Consider the following when Changing lanes in opposing traffic in order to pass a vehicle

  • Before changing lanes into approaching traffic you should be certain that you have ample visibility, time, and clearance to pass the vehicle in front of you.
  • You should also verify that you have unobstructed travel into the opposing lane from vehicles attempting to pass your vehicle from the rear.
  • Obey all road rules, road signage and road markings.
  • Be cautious of vehicles you are attempting to pass that may be slowing to make a right-hand turn which may turn into your path. [Keep in mind that they may fail to signal/ indicate their intentions.]
  • Be extra cautious of vehicles such as tractors and other farming equipment.
  • Always look in front of you, behind you and next to you if you are clear to change lanes.
  • Use your indicator a few seconds BEFORE you change lanes.
  • Be very cautious in conditions of poor weather and low visibility.

Kindness and courtesy when changing lanes

Kindness and courtesy when changing lanes

Too many crashes occur when drivers drive aggressively. Roads will be safer when we drive defensively, with kindness and forgiveness to others.

We need to remember that everyone makes mistakes in their lives and that they may do so on the roads as well!

When another driver makes a lane change that is to your inconvenience - give him/ her the benefit of the doubt and allow some extra space!

Also view:

Road Safety and Safe Overtaking

Sharing Roads and the Zipper Merge in Traffic

Sharing the Roads with Trucks Safely

Defensive Driving and Making Roads Safe

10 Point Plan to Prevent Road Rage

Lane Splitting and Advice from the Motorcycle Experts