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Five lane change mistakes that can lead to disaster

Published October 12, 2012
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We see the ugly scars on our roads every day. Those long looping skid marks stretching across multiple lanes only to end abruptly at the scar on the concrete wall are mostly the result of a lane change gone horribly wrong. These poorly executed lane changes are one of the main reasons for highway crashes.

More: The 10 common traffic violation myths

More: Breaking down the ‘big four’ driving sins

Below are the five leading causes of unsuccessful lane changes, and the ways to avoid becoming a victim:

Number 1 cause: Motorists weaving in and out of traffic or lane hopping. This can be due to the misconception that rushing will save lots of time. It can be to ease the subconscious feeling of competition that some motorists have. Being the fastest means being the best. Or it can be just plain showing off. These dangerous drivers are always seeking the faster moving lane or the gaps in traffic that will allow their unimpeded progress. They are usually travelling faster than the majority of traffic due to their impatience. The greatly increased number of lane changes increases the chances of something going drastically wrong. It’s like buying more lottery tickets to increase your chances of winning except in this situation the only winners are the body shops and tow trucks.

Solution: Driving on our roads is not a competition. Not being the fastest driver is actually OK. Showing off never impresses anyone. Avoid allowing yourself to fall victim to “Road Rush”. Racing to get from point A to point B in heavy traffic as fast as possible only greatly increases driver stress as well as the odds of collision, while accomplishing very little time saving. Actual studies show the time saved is not worth the increased odds of crashing. This “Road Rush” only leads to lane hopping and the more lane changes you make, the greater the odds of a driving disaster occurring. Sit back, relax and enjoy a leisurely drive in the right lane and you can help avoid being the victim of your own bad lane change. Keep this saying in mind, “Anyone can drive fast, smart drivers know when not to.”

Number 2 cause: The last second lane change. This shows a lack of situational awareness by the driver. They are caught off guard and surprised by their driving environment. Motorists who are not focused on their driving environment often find themselves rushing up behind a slower vehicle or a stopped lane of traffic. To avoid this delay or at least the heavy braking, they attempt a last second “Hail Mary” lane change and often miss vital traffic information about other vehicles in their immediate proximity.

Solution: Focus on your driving so you can plan lane changes well in advance. Analyze the traffic flow around you and when and where other traffic will likely merge in. This gives you plenty of time to check traffic around you and make a clear signal. You can now make a smooth transition from one lane to the next and avoid the jerky swerve that can send you out of control or into the side of another vehicle. Motorists should never be surprised by any situation. Drivers should stay focused and not allow distractions to prevent processing of critical driving information.

Number 3 cause: Inefficient mirror use and settings. Most drivers do not set their mirrors in such a way to afford them the best view around their vehicle while minimizing or eliminating the blind spots. Even if they do, most drivers will not check their mirrors often enough. Driving experts are teaching the better way to adjust mirrors to eliminate the blind spot.

Solution: Set your side view mirrors so that you see more of the lane beside you rather than the side of your own vehicle. Unfortunately, the most common way for drivers to adjust their side view mirrors is so they can see a little of the side of their own vehicle. However, you need to know if a vehicle is beside you in your “blind spot” rather than seeing the side of your own vehicle. Far more motorists have collided with a vehicle in their blind spot than have collided with the side of their own vehicle! Check with an advanced driving school to help you learn this technique (More: Blind spot? There’s no such thing as a blind spot). Drivers should also check their mirrors more often. A scan of all mirrors should happen every five to eight seconds. Good motorists keep their vision high and every few seconds they will glance from the rear view to the side view mirrors and then return to far up the road. It is vital to know where all vehicles are located around you at all times.

Number 4 cause: Unintended lane changes. These range from drivers being distracted by cell phones, conversations, changing CDs or radio stations, picking up articles in the vehicle, staring at collisions or other visual distractions, fatigue and impairment. In this situation the driver does not intend to change lanes or may not even be aware they are changing lanes.

Solution: To avoid experiencing any unplanned lane changes, do not allow yourself to be distracted by anything that is not traffic related. Look to where you want to go as you will drive to where you are looking. Do not drive if you are impaired or tired.

Number 5 cause: Not signalling lane changes. Surprising other motorists with your lane change can lead to abrupt reactions that can cause loss of control. When two motorists try to occupy the same lane real estate, not signalling that intention can lead to confusion or collision.

Solution: Signal all your lane changes. It is in your best interest to let every driver around you know what you plan to do next. Motorists need at least two or three flashes from the turn signal to grasp the intent from the signalling driver. Another two or three flashes will confirm the lane change occurring. In other words, each turn or lane change signal should be comprised of a minimum of four flashes from the turn signal lights. That last second one-flash of the turn signal halfway through a lane change that many motorists do acts only as a confirmation of what the other motorists already know. Drivers should also keep in mind using your turn signal does not give you the right of way. Lane changes and turns can only be completed when it is safe to do so.

It is each driver’s responsibility to make a safe lane change. By minimizing lane changes, using proficient vision techniques, staying focused on driving, setting and using your mirrors efficiently and communicating your lane change in advance, you can avoid leaving your signature scrawled across our roadways or worse, becoming another traffic statistic.

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