Keeping left, merging, overtaking and safe distances

Weaving in and out of traffic? Find out what is and isn’t allowed.

There are all sorts of reasons why you might need to merge or change lanes. You could be overtaking another car, switching lanes to prepare for a turn, or entering a freeway. In this section, we cover the key things you need to know to stay safe.

Merging and changing lanes

Illustration of car merging where there is a dashed line

There are two key rules you should be aware of when it comes to merging, and it all comes down to the line markings:

  • The first kind of merge is when vehicles cross a dashed line – like on a freeway. Here the vehicle wanting to switch lanes needs to give way to cars already travelling in that lane.
  • In a zip-merge situation – which is when two lanes of traffic join and there’s no dashed line – the vehicle in front should be given way regardless of whether they’re on the left or right.

When it comes to changing lanes – regardless of whether there’s line marking – you must indicate. The signal must be long enough to give enough warning to other drivers. So, no flicking on your indicator at the last minute!

Illustration of a zip merge, where there is no dashed line

Our tips include:

  • Within the limit, merging drivers should try to match the speed of the traffic they’re joining.
  • Give drivers plenty of warning that you intend to merge or change lanes by indicating.
  • Remember that if you’re changing lanes or joining a queue, you must give way to vehicles already in the lane.

For more detail refer to rules 45, 46, 48, 148 and 149 of the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2017.

What to know about overtaking

If you’re driving on a multi-lane road you need to keep left unless overtaking. The exceptions are:

  • if you’re turning right
  • if you’re making a U-turn from the centre of the road
  • signs or markings indicate otherwise.

Even when signs aren’t enforcing the rule, it’s courteous and practical to keep left on all multi-lane roads where possible as it helps the traffic continue to flow.

Watch our video on keeping left unless overtaking.

Keeping a safe distance

Tailgating is unsafe and illegal. We recommend allowing a minimum two-second gap between you and the car in front of you when driving.

To calculate the gap, pick a fixed object on the side of the road. As the back of the car in front of you passes the object, start to count. If the front of your car reaches object before you get to two, you’re travelling too close. Slow down and increase the distance between the vehicles.

You should increase the gap to greater than two seconds in wet or foggy weather, at night, if you are tired or if you are towing or driving a heavy vehicle.

Refer to rules 126 and 127 of the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2017.

The summaries RACV provide on Victorian road rules are based on the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2017. We make sure to reference the exact rule where possible. When reading, keep in mind that we’re providing general information, not legal advice. If you’re looking for specific questions on any legal matter, consult with a lawyer for help.