I’m driving my friend around every day because he was convicted of impaired driving and his licence is suspended until January. He is always criticizing my driving. While he was with me in the car, I signalled and changed lanes in the middle of an intersection. He told me that it was illegal and that he’d been ticketed for it. Is it actually illegal? I can’t find anything against it in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. – Tor
The lane truth isn’t so simple. In most provinces, there’s no law specifically against changing lanes in an intersection, but you could still be charged.
“I don’t know of any law that says you can’t change lanes within an intersection,” said Kerry Schmidt, Ontario Provincial Police spokesman. “But it would be difficult to determine fault if a collision took place in one and there were not clearly distinguished lanes.”
While Quebec and Manitoba ban changing lanes in, or before, an intersection, most other provinces don’t.
While Quebec’s law is clear – “no person may change lanes when approaching or when in an intersection” – Manitoba’s law just says you can’t cross a solid line.
“As all controlled intersections have a solid line approaching the intersection, crossing that line would be a breach of Section 110 of the Highway Traffic Act,” said Inspector Gord Spado, head of the Winnipeg Police Service’s traffic division. “The interpretation is that the solid line continues through the intersection for a short distance on the opposite side of the intersection.”
It’s a $200-$300 fine in Quebec and a $143 fine in Manitoba.
Most other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, don’t have a specific ban on changing lanes in intersections.
“Is it legal? The answer is yes,” said Acting Sergeant Chris Agren with the Calgary Police Service. “Can you do it safely? Well, that depends.”
In all those provinces, you can still get charged with making an unsafe lane change if you change lanes in an intersection.
That’s a $109 fine in British Columbia, $243 in Alberta, $110 fine in Ontario and $237.50 in Nova Scotia.
Who decides whether it’s unsafe? That’s up to the officer.
“It would have to affect the other drivers,” Sgt. Agren said. “From my own personal viewpoint, I would have to see them somehow endanger another car – like if they changed lanes and then cut off another car.”
Or, if you do get into a crash, you could also be charged.
But even where there’s no law specifically against changing lanes in intersections, it’s still a bad idea, police said.
Nova Scotia’s and Ontario’s driver’s handbooks say not to do it, even though those provinces don’t have laws specifically against it.
“It is unexpected, and such a move may be misinterpreted by other drivers,” said Corporal Mike Halskov with B.C. RCMP Traffic Services. “And, with a large percentage of crashes occurring in intersections, it is not worth the risk.”
Even if you can make a lane change safely in an intersection, drivers who are turning left or right into that intersection might not realize what you’re doing until it’s too late.
For instance, if you suddenly switch from the left to the right lane, you could be moving into the path of a right-turning driver who had thought it was clear.
“The right-turning driver would collide with the vehicle coming through the intersection that just changed lanes,” said Ian Law, president and chief instructor of ILR car-control school in Mount Albert, Ont. “Both drivers are likely to be charged – one with an unsafe turn and the other with an unsafe lane change. They were both at fault.”
So whether it’s legal or not, wait until you’re safely past the intersection to switch lanes, Mr. Law said.
“It is dangerous and not smart at all to be changing lanes at or near intersections,” Mr. Law said.
Have a driving question? Send it to email@example.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.
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