Improper Lane Change

Updated January 22, 2024
10 min read
Improper Lane Change


Improper lane changes are a common occurrence in the United States, accounting for almost four thousand deaths in the last research report conducted by the Insurance Information Institute. The report also states that illegal lane changes are the third leading cause of traffic collision fatalities. The majority of car accidents result in property damage, one of the most dangerous types of accidents.

While it is common to see a vehicle change lanes without a signal, it is something that can have serious consequences. It can result in fines, accidents, road rage, property damage, and unsafe road conditions.  

If you are the victim of an accident, it is important to let officers know immediately. If you are charged with a traffic violation and you believe the officer was wrong you have the option of contesting the citation.

What Is an Improper Lane Change?

In general, an improper lane change is moving a car from one lane to the next in an unsafe manner without signaling, causing dangerous road conditions. This is also commonly referred to as an "improper lane of traffic." 

The improper lane change does not have to result in an accident, and a driver can still be ticketed for the offense. However, if a driver witnesses an accident and reports the event, officers have a very difficult time proving the event happened, short of another driver being run off the road or an accident occurring.

The question often arises: is an unsafe lane change a misdemeanor? The answer can vary depending on local laws, but it's typically treated as a traffic infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor. Nevertheless, it is a serious violation that could potentially lead to more severe consequences, mainly if it results in an accident.


Some common unsafe lane changes include:

  • The officer determined that the maneuvering of the car endangered other drivers;

  • Passing a slower vehicle too close;

  • Forcing a car off the road;

  • Maintaining an unsafe amount of distance between the lane-changing vehicle and the other vehicle;

  • Weaving through traffic in an unsafe manner, either too fast than the surrounding vehicles or in heavy traffic.

Any of these situations can cause an accident and serious injuries to the other driver and passengers. The cause of unsafe lane changes can be:

  • Failure to use a signal absentmindedly;

  • Aggressive drivers;

  • Drivers in a hurry;

  • Frustrated drivers;

  • Distracted drivers.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated or distracted, pull over and assess whether driving safely is possible at the moment. It is perfectly acceptable for a driver to have had a difficult workday and just want to get home without respect for other vehicles around them. All drivers experience frustration, distraction, and aggression, however, if a driver thinks it is unsafe to drive during times of frustration or fatigue, it may be time to reassess whether driving is the best activity at the moment.

In contrast, if a driver observes a car in their rearview mirror changing lanes in an unsafe manner, it is important to drive defensively. This means moving as far away from the vehicle and where it is traveling. A driver who sees an unsafe driver may need to be a witness if there is a car accident. If the driver feels comfortable pulling over after witnessing a lane violation that results in an accident, this can help the police officers file a correct and detailed report.

Unsafe Lane Change Laws and Violations

Each state will have its own laws regarding safe lane changes and how violations are defined. In general, one of the leading legal resources for the last fifty years, an unsafe lane change occurs when there are two lanes clearly marked going in the same direction, and drivers on the roadway must drive “as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane” and remain in that lane until it is safe to move to another lane. 


Unsafe lane changes are charged as traffic violations. Usually, it results in a fee. These fees vary from state to state based on the unsafe lane change statutes. The fee is typically several hundred dollars, but if there are factors increasing the dangerousness of the lane change, the fee can be as high as one thousand dollars. The dangerousness element is increased when there is heavy traffic, poor weather conditions, slick roads, or speeding.

In addition to a fee, points or flags are placed on your driving record. Usually, points can be removed either from time passing or completing traffic school. However, if a driver is not eligible for traffic school or the violation does not qualify for traffic school, then the driver’s car insurance premium can be affected. The more points or flags on a driving record, the higher the car insurance premium.  


Changing lanes when driving from destination to destination is inevitable, it is almost impossible to drive without changing lanes. With that in mind, it is important to understand the laws of your state in order to avoid being cited for improper lane use. Once you understand the laws in your state, always drive with safety as your top priority. Before moving your vehicle in any direction, check to make sure it is reasonable to do so.

If any situation, understand that there are options for contesting the citation. Take pictures of the traffic and weather, and try to explain to the officer or judge why it was reasonable to make that lane change at the time it was made. Remember, the officer has a high burden to overcome in order to prove that you were unreasonable. Traffic attorneys can help you navigate the traffic court system should you be a victim of an unreasonable citation. 

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at or connect with her on LinkedIn.