Lane Changes and Mirrors

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

I recently got my drivers license that now allows me to drive alone. I’m still a bit nervous with certain things like changing lanes and left hand turns. When changing lanes how should the cars appear in my mirrors to let me know I have enough space without cutting them off? Someone told me if I can see their head lights in my rear mirror I have enough room, is this correct? I always check my blind spot as well but changing lanes really gives me bad nerves. Any advice is appreciated!

First off, congrats on earning your license!  Now the real learning begins!

Lane changes are tough to master, and can be dangerous while you’re learning.  Take time to practice on quiet roads with little traffic.

First, your mirrors should be set properly.  If you’re driving something with four doors, angle the driver’s side mirror so that the rear door handle is barely visible in the lower right corner of the mirror.  On the passenger’s side, make the rear door handle barely visible in the lower left corner.  If you’re driving a two-door coupe, substitute the far back end of the car.

As you’re getting ready to change lanes, it’s important to keep your speed constant.  Put your turn signal on so that the other drivers know what you’re planning to do.  Take a few quick checks of the cars in the lane you want to go into – if you see the whole car plus some space in front of it, you’re probably good, but check a few times to see if the space holds (the other driver sees your signal and is letting you in) or decreases (the other driver sees your signal and is speeding up to cut you off).

If the gap holds, quick check over your shoulder into your blind spot – look for something or nothing.  If it’s something, abort your lane change.  If it’s nothing, keep your eyes forward and speed constant and slide the car over gracefully into the empty space.  

Generally, your rearview mirror (the one on your windshield) is for watching the traffic behind you.  Your side mirrors are for lane changes.  

You can add blindspot mirrors to any car – stores like WalMart, Target and most automotive supply stores carry stick-on blindspot mirrors you can adhere to your factory sideview mirrors.

Practice and your confidence will build!

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