Changing Lanes Safely Whilst Driving

Changing lanes whilst driving, for a learner driver can often seem like a precarious situation.

The driving test may involve changing lanes either intentionally, or a learner, they may realise that they are in an incorrect lane and may need to change in order to remain on course. Changing lanes is actually a rather simple task.

What can be difficult is to actually make a decision quickly, or at least the correct one and to ensure it is done safely. This tutorial explain the correct technique for changing lanes and if it is actually necessary.


These are the typical places where you may need to or have to change lanes during a driving test:

  • Overtaking. In a driving test, this will be done on a dual carriageway and not a single carriageway road.
  • Approaching junctions. This can include roundabouts, T-junctions or crossroads.
  • Dual carriageways and A roads. A dual carriageway or ‘A’ roads may require a lane change in order to follow a particular route.
  • The wrong lane. You have taken the incorrect lane and need to change lanes in order to remain on course. (Pretty common that one!)
Road lanes sign
Road lanes sign

Changing lanes procedure

Changing lanes whether to the left or right should be done using the Mirror Signal Manoeuvre procedure (MSM). The appropriate blind spot check must also be made before a signal is applied.

Changing lanes roundabouts

For multi-lane roundabouts with multiple exits, generally for exits up to 180 degrees from your entry point, keep to either the left or centre lane if going straight ahead. For exits over 180 degrees, use the right hand lane. This is also dependent on road marking or road signs if applicable.

If you do need to change lanes on a roundabout, you must first check you mirrors and the applicable blind spot followed by a signal. If there is a vehicle to your side in the lane that you wish to move into, or you are simply uncertain that it is safe to move, remain in your current lane. You can then either continue round the roundabout to the exit again or take an alternative exit. You will not fail a driving test for doing this, but will fail for changing lanes dangerously.

  • Read the full roundabouts tutorial for further information.

Driving in the wrong lane

It’s quite common for learner drivers to find themselves in the incorrect lane during a driving test. This could be one-way-systems, approaching roundabouts or junctions etc. The last thing you want to do is to panic and abruptly get into the lane you’re supposed to be in.

Use the correct MSM routine and the blind spot and if it is safe for you to change lanes, do so, if not, cancel any signals and remain in your current lane. Don’t slow down to let a car pass that is in the lane you wish to take as this can be dangerous for vehicles behind. The examiner will take you on an alternative route. We all make mistakes whilst driving, the difference is whether it’s a safe or dangerous mistake.

Changing lanes dual carriageways

If you are taking a driving test where a dual carriageway is close to the test centre, the likelihood is you will be driving on it. You are not likely to spend too much time on a dual carriageway so whether you need to overtake depends on the traffic and its speed at that time.

When you have joined the dual carriageway and approach a slow moving vehicle, you will be expected to make progress and overtake. The examiner will however inform you of which exit you will be taking, so only overtake if you have plenty of time to do so. The MSPSL driving routine should be implemented for overtaking and also the blind spot must be checked before signalling.

Upon checking the mirrors and the blind spot, ensure there is plenty of distance from yourself and any vehicles in the fast lane before changing lanes. Also beware of vehicles that may be approaching from behind at speed as forcing another vehicle to slow down, even if they’re driving well over the speed limit is dangerous and will fail a driving test. If in the slightest doubt that it is safe to change lanes, remain in the slow lane until you are confident it is safe or you reach your exit.

Changing lanes tips

Always use the Mirror Signal Manoeuvre routine, or one of the alternatives. Further information about these can be found in the driving routine section. Always check the blind spot of the direction you are changing lanes into before signalling and moving the car. Whatever the situation and where ever you are, if you are not completely confident it is safe to change lanes, cancel and signals if applied and remain in your current lane, even if it takes you in the wrong direction.

Tutorials related to changing lanes

8 thoughts on “Changing Lanes Safely Whilst Driving”

  1. Claudia

    Hi, I’m taking my test on Friday in the morning rush hour and will more than likely go on a dual carriagway with multiple multilane roundabouts. I was wondering about changing lanes when I need to turn right on a roundabout during such a busy time. My instructor says I need to be ‘more selfish’ and has made me cut in front of cars to get in the right hand lane but I find the whole process extremely nerve racking and I just can’t seem to understand the contradictions. I know I shouldn’t make other cars slow down or break. I’m confused?

  2. Hello Claudia,
    Whilst in the ‘real world’ you do on occasions need to be a little pushy, during your driving test you need to be careful as causing another driver change speed or direction will likely result in a test failure. I would be more inclined to assess the specific roads that you’re driving on during the morning of your test. If they are very busy, then change lanes a little earlier than you would do normally. The most important thing to remember though, is that if you do need to change lanes, say change into the right lane on a dual carriageway for example and if it doesn’t look safe enough to do so, then don’t do it. Talk to the examiner, tell them that you’re getting into lane earlier than normal because it’s busy, or if you can’t do it, tell them that you’ll be taking an alternative exit because it’s not safe to change lanes. They will then know the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

  3. Jyoti

    I failed due to changing lanes in a busy traffic. So, we emerged into a dual carriageway at a junction controlled by traffic lights and the examiner asked to take the right turn after half a mile. I could have taken the inner lane while entering the dual carriageway as it was busy but I didn’t, thinking I will be marked down for not driving on a normal lane for a prolonged time. So, I took the normal (outer) lane and couldn’t find a safe gap to change the lane and on approaching the right turn I tried to change lane (in a slow moving traffic) and caused a driver to brake and failed. So, what should have been the allowed distance before changing lane? Could I emerge to the inner lane while joining the dual carriageway (before half a mile of my right turn)?

    Kin regards

  4. Hello there Jyoti,

    You talk about distances, but this is almost impossible to answer. It will relate to your speed and the speed of the other vehicles on the carriageway and even if I did suggest a distance, how would you accurately gauge that in your side-view mirror?

    So it’s more about the ‘situation’ and of course, these vary significantly whilst driving. In your particular situation, you should have gotten into the appropriate as soon as it was safe to do so. Your exit was only half a mile ahead, so you need to prepare for that, and get it sorted ASAP. On dual carriageways or motorways, you need to get things sorted well in advance of your exit, regardless of the speed of traffic.

    The point in which you failed was due to you following the route as indicated by the examiner. If it isn’t safe to change lanes, don’t change lanes, it’s as simple as that. You should have told the examiner that it’s unsafe to change lanes and that you’ll be continuing on your current course.

    If there is a difference between lane speeds, you can signal your intention to join the lane, but you must wait for acknowledgment from a driver before joining. This will usually come on the form of a flashing of headlights to allow you into their lane. But you can only join a busy lane in this situation, else, as in your situation, you’ll cause a driver to take hazardous reactive measures.

  5. Michael

    Hi, I have a question about changing lanes coming up to a roundabout when all lanes are rammed with traffic.

    If I need to change lanes to the right, to get in the correct lane in anticipation of a right turn, then I need to MSM. The Mirror part will show that changing lanes is not possible safely – so I need to go straight on instead and modify my route. I get that.

    However, my instructor says that an indicator has another use: as a “request for help”. She says that I can put my right indicator on to indicate to drivers in the right lane that I want to change lanes and if they yield sufficiently then I can do so. (If they don’t yield then obviously I stay in lane and go the “wrong” way.)

    I am surprised by this as to my mind this particular use of an indicator, as a request for help, completely flouts the MSM rule and I can’t see any mention of this is the Highway Code.

  6. Hi Michael

    You can use your indicator as a ‘request for help’ say for example you’re parked up and needing to move off. Usually, you wouldn’t signal until you intend on actually moving off because you don’t want to cause drivers coming from behind you to change speed or direction (possibly swerve). But if the road is very busy and it looks like you’re going to be waiting all day, then it is acceptable to apply a signal and hope that a driver will stop to let you out.

    In moving traffic however, you need to be very careful as it can make an already chaotic situation possibly worse. If it’s a case of a slightly modified change of route, then that would be the best course of action, if the change of route puts you seriously off course, then perhaps try the ‘request for help’ by indicating. But before doing so, you really need to consider the surrounding circumstances and how your actions may impact the safety of others and of course whether it’s even a legal manoeuvre (solid lines). I would usually always recommend against using a ‘request for help’ signal during a driving test and instead opt to go the wrong way.

  7. Nancy

    my instructor hasn’t told me how to know when i need to change lanes meaning I’m not independant and have always been told when to change lanes is there anything you can suggest?

  8. Hi Nancy,
    You only need to change lanes if you need to overtake something, or if you find yourself in the wrong lane. But the real question is, do I really need to overtake it, or if I am in the wrong lane, is it legal or safe to change lanes?
    If you know the answer to those questions, you’re good to go. If not, I’m happy to help.

Leave a Reply