Lane changes can be one of the easiest maneuvers with a vehicle, and can be one of the hardest maneuvers at the same time. Changing lanes requires processing information and making a safe decision well in advance to make the maneuver a simple and safe task. The faster your speed is, the faster you have to process information, which in turn makes it a little more difficult. There are important defensive driving procedures you must do, before making a lane change.
Look ahead and plan ahead. If you plan well in advance, the maneuver becomes a lot easier and safer. Checking your path ahead before you consider changing lanes is the number one priority. What traffic and pedestrians are doing ahead of you is the first step in processing information and making a decision. You must always check your path ahead for vehicle traffic changes, and controlled intersections that affect these changes.
There are many potential hazards that you should be looking for. You have to be looking ahead for vehicles slowing down and possibly stopping in front of you, and making sure you’re on the look out for pedestrians that may step off the curb up ahead. Also checking for vehicles that may possibly come out in front of you, or from another merging lane. A good indication of what traffic and pedestrians are going to do ahead of you would be motorist signaling ahead of you with a signal and or brake lights. If their signaling to turn, they have to slow down and possibly stop for other traffic or pedestrians, depending on circumstances where they are turning. All this information is important, because it affects everybody in motion.
While your checking your path ahead, you have to know what is happening behind you. If you use your rearview mirror all the time, you will always know what is happening around you. Using the rearview mirror, gives you a bigger picture than your side mirrors. Checking your rearview mirror should be done at a glance only. Your main concern is in front of you. When glancing at your rearview mirror, you should be glancing for traffic coming up faster than you, also vehicles signaling to change lanes behind you. They may be picking up speed to pass your vehicle.
In order to make a safe lane change, you have to either slow down to let traffic get by you, or speed up to stay ahead of traffic, without going over the speed limit. If you’re doing the same speed as traffic behind you, they won’t catch up to you, unless you start braking. If traffic is doing the same speed, you should accelerate slightly to maneuver over to the other lane, unless there is a good reason not to.
Once you know what is happening both ahead of you and behind your vehicle. The number three procedure is signaling to let traffic know your intentions on the direction you plan on maneuvering. The signaling procedure is for communicating to other drivers. If you signal and let other drivers know what you’re doing, they may slow down to let you make the safe lane change. Warning other vehicles of your intention to change lanes, include vehicles ahead of you and behind you.
Drivers negotiating to maneuver out in front of you may stay where they are, if they see your signal to move over, possibly into the lane that they want to maneuver into. People do not always do what there suppose to do, so anticipate the worst. Take nothing for granted! It may be a safer lane change beyond traffic waiting to come out, if you have time. You also have to consider not surprising the vehicles close to your vehicle by signaling as they approach the corner side of your vehicle. They may panic and brake, thinking you’re moving over sooner. Wait until they are beside your vehicle and your signal is out of their sight before you signal to warn other traffic behind your vehicle. This seems like a lot of info for just a signal, but communicating with other drivers are important in defensive driving.
After you have signaled and you know everything is clear ahead of you and behind. Take a quick glance over to your blind spot, and make sure there is nobody sitting along side your vehicle. Stay in your lane, if it is not safe. When you check your shoulder, it’s only supposed to be a glance. You still have one more important procedure before maneuvering into the other lane.
Recheck the lane ahead of you, just before you turn the steering wheel to make sure nobody is stopping or coming out into your path. Once you have glanced over your shoulder and looked forward, gradually maneuver over right away with a slight adjustment of the steering wheel. Only if it’s safe! You do not want to be maneuvering over, if there is a vehicle stopping in front of you, or coming out in front of your intended path. If you cannot make the maneuver right after the shoulder check, cancel everything and start over. The worst scenario would be traveling an extra block in town.
Do not make lane changes at intersections. Make sure lane changes are done before and after intersections. Intersections include any crossroad, side road, lane or street.
Constantly planning well in advance and constantly using your mirrors, will help you become a better defensive driver.
I hope these defensive driving tips help your goal in becoming a safe driver.
For more information on this topic, please consult with a family member and a recognized Driving School on defensive driving techniques.