Transportation and Vehicle Safety/New Adult Driver


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!

ANSWER: Hi Laura,

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!



Michael Mercadante, MS

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Another question for you, how can I maximize my view of oncoming traffic when making a left hand turn at an intersection? I can't see the oncoming traffic sometimes when turning left when there is people in front of me waiting to turn left in the opposite direction of me.

Hi Laura,

The simple answer here is to have patience.  Wait until you have a clear view of all lanes you need to cross before you make your move.  If an oncoming car or truck turning left blocks your view of straight lanes, your best move is to wait until they complete their turn and your sight lines are clear.  

The alternative, inching your car farther to the left to see better, is something you may see other drivers doing, but this increasing the risk of a broadside collision.

Hope this helps!



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Michael Mercadante


Questions on traffic safety, safe performance and operation of a motor vehicle in traffic, about driving with special needs, learning/behavioral/developmental disabilities, understanding vehicle laws, understanding safety equipment on vehicles, defensive and precision driving techniques, driver education and instruction and driver exam preparation.


Owner and sole driving instructor for Modern Driver Institute. Eight years in traffic safety research on contracts for NHTSA, FMCSA, AAA, MDOT and PennDOT. More than 1,000 hours as a professional driving instructor. Licensed driving instructor in the state of PA. Certified Defensive Driving Instructor for the National Safety Council. Precision driving for Hollywood and independent films. Expertise in virtual-reality driving simulators and teaching students with developmental/intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and more.

member, Teen Safe Driving Coalition; member, PA Safe Kids coalition; service provider, PA Bureau of Autism Services; service provider, PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

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Licensed driving instructor, PA Department of Education Certified Defensive Driving Instructor, National Safety Council B.A. in American History (cum laude), Temple University (earned 2007) M.S. in Psychology, specialization in Educational Psychology (2015) Ph.D in Psychology, specialization in Educational Psychology (expected 2019)

Awards and Honors
Scientific Paper of the Year (2003), Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine.

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