Is It Actually Quicker To Change Lanes In Traffic? Mythbusters Tested It

It sounds strange, but there is a little bit of truth behind it.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

The Mythbusters in suits.

The Mythbusters from Mythbusters.

Image credit: Kathy Hutchins/

There's a theory – usually told to drivers by their parents to make them slow down – that changing lanes on the highway in traffic, weaving in and out of cars, doesn't get you to your destination any faster.

It sounds strange, but there is a little bit of truth behind it. In 2014, the Mythbusters team put it to the test. It wasn't a complicated experiment, and one you could perform yourself with friends who are absolutely unwilling to carpool.


The Mythbusters had a race from San Francisco to the San Jose tech museum. Kari and Grant drove one car switching lanes constantly to try to beat the traffic, while Tory stuck to his lane the whole journey. The weaver won, but only narrowly, while also taking on risky traffic maneuvers.

The team then tested having cars designated to drive in each lane of the highway (terrible etiquette, we know) as well as a weaving car. Again, the weaving car got to the destination faster, by between 2 and 25 percent.

"So where do we stand with the stick or weave dilemma? Well with every single test we've done the weaver will beat the person staying in one lane every single time. In test one, in traffic that wasn't that heavy, the lane sticker lost by around 2 percent, and in the ultimate test all the lane stickers lost by anywhere from 4 percent to 25 percent," Tory concluded, adding "the myth that staying in one lane will get you to your destination in the same time as weaving is busted – weaving will get you there faster but just barely and it's not that safe."


So, all settled? Not quite. An earlier study used a computer to simulate and track the speed of individual vehicles on a congested road. They found that drivers' judgment of which lane is faster may be impaired by an illusion.

"The simulation showed that if you looked over to the other lane," Donald Redelmeier, who co-authored the 1999 study told ABC News in 2005, "you would see more cars passing your eyes than you expect to see. It's sort of an illusion -- the other lane looks faster when in fact it's not."

According to the study, drivers may believe the next lane over is moving faster, even though it isn't.

"A driver on a congested roadway can pass many vehicles in a brief interval, whereas it takes much more time for the driver to be overtaken by the same number of vehicles," the authors wrote in the study. "Hence, a journey has fewer passing epochs than overtaking epochs. Every driver, therefore, should normally expect to spend more time going slower than going faster compared to others."


The team found that there was no real difference in journey time between lane stickers and weavers.

"So the ultimate conclusion," Redelmeier told ABC, "is that it's not any faster and it's dangerous."

If you exercise good judgment, as Mythbusters evidently did, you can get to your destination slightly quicker. But you might not be the best judge, the time difference will be marginal, and you are putting yourself at greater risk during the drive.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.  


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