How to Change Lanes in Heavy Traffic


There is a right and a wrong way to do everything - including changing lanes. When you are caught in rush hour traffic, you are part of a living culture. Not knowing the rules and proper etiquette can make you an annoyance, a road block, and a potential hazard. In driving school, you are taught to operate a motor vehicle safely, but the fact that you'll be driving on actual roads with other people seems to be skipped over. Here's what they should have taught you, although they probably didn't.

  • Plan your lane change. Know ahead of time what lane you will need to be in. Everybody else does, and they leave themselves enough time to get there the right way. If you don't do this, you'll end up blocking traffic and soon you'll be enjoying an orchestra of car horns accentuated with a flock of "birds."

  • Look for an opening. Use your rear-view mirror to keep tabs on the row of cars in the lane next to you. Watch as traffic slows down and speeds up, and as the cars in the adjacent lane slowly drift by you. You will eventually see an opening, and that is your target. A good place to find an opening is usually in front of a semi, because they accelerate slowly. When the stop and go traffic stops, the semi has to stop. When the traffic "goes" again, the Lexus in front of the semis zips away and the semi has about fifteen gears to work through. You're golden.

  • Use your signal to signal, not to ask permission. Your turn signal should be more of a warning or announcement than a request. People understand you need to change lanes. Don't draw it out for a minute and a half waiting for a red carpet and a welcome sign. If you have planned your turn and found a safe opening, signal and then go! In rush hour traffic no one is in the mood for "you go, no you go, no you - go ahead..." Other drivers will honestly be less frustrated with you if you wait for an empty space and then make the switch - even if it's in front of them. They will adjust their speed and you'll blend right back in with all the other traffic.

Tips & Warnings

  • Look over your shoulder before you make the lane change.
  • If someone is being a jerk, forget it and wait for the next opening.

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  • Photo Credit Darnok (morguefile)
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