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Daily we witness careless drivers cutting off other motorists or our own vehicles. We also see aggressive drivers rapidly changing lanes, weaving in and out of traffic, ignoring the right-of-way. What happens next? You or others are forced to evasively steer or brake to avoid the aggressive or careless driver.
Unpleasant thoughts immediately come to mind about these drivers because they have endangered our life and the lives of those around us. But, be honest, many of us have actually been that careless driver realizing, only after a horn honk, that we encroached into another driver’s lane. Fortunately for our sake, we deliberately signaled our intention, slowly began our movement, and gave the other driver time to warn us of their presence. Typically embarrassed, we breathe a sigh of relief vowing to be more cautious in the future.
Reinforce that personal vow by following these seven (7) driving tips to a safe lane change:
1. Plan Ahead
Avoid the "rush" of rush hour. Allow plenty of time in the morning so you are not one of the battalion of drivers making a mad dash to work. Slowing down and avoiding the rush-rush mentality allows for driving with serenity and may even save your life.
Wake up in the morning with plenty of time to allow for inclement weather. Before leaving the house, check traffic conditions (television news, radio, social media). As you drive, plan ahead for any necessary lane changes. If you know your exit is coming up, begin moving to the right lane miles before it becomes urgent. If this means being behind a slower truck for a mile or so, then so be it. Planning ahead and being realistic in your scheduling allows you time so that you do not have to race around that slower moving truck.
Multiple or last minute lane changes tend to cause conflict with motorists who have the right-of-way. The quicker the lane change, the greater the likelihood of causing an accident. Likewise, if you know the lane you are traveling in comes to an end, don’t wait until you run out of roadway to make a last minute lane change, cutting off others. Just because you can travel until the lane ends, does not mean you should.
2. Check Your Mirrors
Understand what you see! When driving along, manage the space around your vehicle. Regular mirror checks allow us to understand where traffic is and can alert us to motorists traveling faster than other traffic. But be aware that mirrors can distort images and distances of other vehicles.
Not looking properly AND understanding what we see is a major cause of accidents. If it is nighttime and a vehicle is rapidly approaching from behind, understand what lane that vehicle is in before changing lanes. If in doubt as to what you see, don’t change lanes.
Keep your mirrors clean and properly adjusted. A good practice is to check and/or clean your mirrors every time you pump your gas.
3. Signal Your Intended Lane Change
Communicate your intended lane change far in advance of moving your vehicle. Put your turn signal on, then signal continuously until you complete your lane change. If a motorist is in your blind spot and sees that you intend to move into their lane, they will communicate their presence by honking their horn, or making themselves visible. Likewise, do not hover in the blind spots of other motorists, particularly larger vehicles. It is good to know the no-zones and safely share the road with large trucks.
4. Double Check Your Mirrors
A lane change is one of those special situations requiring more than a regular mirror check. Routine periodic mirror glances are okay if you do not intend to change direction. However, lane changes and merges require you to be certain of the traffic around you. If you see a car speeding up behind you, allow it to pass before changing lanes in front of it.
Give the right-of-way, do not take it. A thorough look is necessary to determine who is established in a lane and has the right-of-way. If your car has a blind spot, look over your shoulder to make sure another vehicle is not hovering beside you.
5. Slowly Change Lanes
After checking for traffic and signaling your intention, slowly change lanes. A quick lane change is much more likely to lead to a crash than a slow and deliberate lane change. Give traffic around you an opportunity to see, understand, and adapt to your changing position. The driver who arrives last must yield the right-of-way to those already there. A slow and smooth maneuver will allow other motorists to avoid your vehicle in case you did not see them.
6. Leave More Space
We have all seen the signs educating the motoring public, "Don’t Get A Ticket, Leave More Space." These signs are directing motorists to leave enough room before changing lanes, particularly in front of a truck. Trucks need extra space and time to come to a complete stop. Other motorists also need space and time to come to a stop. When changing lanes, leave a gap between you and the other vehicle large enough for them to be able to safely stop behind you. Look in your rearview mirror. When you can see pavement in front of the vehicle you intend to change lanes in front of, you should be able to safely change lanes.
If you make a sudden entrance in front of another vehicle, you deprive that vehicle of safe stopping distance in the event of an emergency. Make sure there is enough room to make your lane change so that the driver behind you does not have to slam their brakes or swerve to avoid you.
Likewise, if you make a lane change behind another vehicle, leave enough space between yours and the other vehicle to allow you a safe stopping distance.
7. Maintain Your Speed
Don’t play games with other drivers. If the vehicle you are trying to pass speeds up, don’t race it. Maintain your speed and just let it go. Once you have safely changed lanes, do not slow down, but keep a steady pace. Not only will you prevent a potential road rage situation, but the driver behind you might be distracted and may be forced to hit the brakes suddenly, or worse, fail to do so and cause a collision. Maintaining your speed after passing avoids these problems and keeps you and the other driver safe.
Lane change accidents often involve sideswiping and rear-end collisions. By following these seven safety tips, you can change lanes safely and prevent an accident. To learn more effective defensive driving tips, visit the Nurenberg Paris blog or follow me on Twitter, Andy Young @SafeDriveHome. Most accidents are preventable. Share these 7 tips on Twitter or with your family and Facebook friends. Help those around you to be more cautious when making lane changes.
Authored by: Andrew R. Young, Chair of the Trucking Safety Section, Ohio Association for Justice / Truck Accident Attorney / Licensed Class A, Commercial Drivers License
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