How to Use the SMOG Model While Driving

Changing lanes. Merging onto highways. Making turns. These driving maneuvers that we do countless times seem simple, but can turn hazardous in an instant if done improperly. That’s why having a good system for executing them safely is so important. This is where the SMOG model comes in handy.

SMOG provides a step-by-step process to follow that helps take the guesswork and anxiety out of changing lanes, merging, and turning. With some practice, the SMOG model can become second nature and make driving much less stressful.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down what the SMOG model is, when to use it, and how to properly execute each step so you can become a pro at using it while driving. We’ll also provide some additional safe driving tips to ensure you stay accident-free on the road.

So let’s get rolling with this crash course on the SMOG model!

What Is the SMOG Model?

SMOG is an acronym that stands for:

  • Signal
  • Mirror
  • Over the shoulder
  • Go

It provides a simple, four-step process to follow when executing lane changes, turns, merging maneuvers, and backing up. The steps enable you to thoroughly scan your surroundings and verify that the maneuver is safe before proceeding.

SMOG helps take the uncertainty and doubt out of making any kind of move on the road by giving clear guidance on what to look for. With SMOG, you’ll have way more confidence in checking your blind spots, signaling properly, and changing lanes or turning safely.

The four SMOG steps are designed to be performed in sequence every single time you do any maneuver. It only takes a few seconds to perform them, but they can prevent so many accidents. Even experienced drivers should use SMOG regularly as a good safety habit.

So let’s break down each step of the SMOG model so you know exactly what to do during your maneuvers.

Step 1: Signal

No matter what kind of driving maneuver you are doing, the very first step is always to signal your intention. Here’s when and how to properly signal:

  • Lane changes – Tap your turn signal in the direction you intend to move well before beginning your lane change. This alerts other drivers around you of your pending move.
  • Turns – Engage your turn signal several seconds before reaching the intersection or driveway when you’ll be turning. Again, this clues other drivers in on your intent.
  • Merging – If you are merging onto a highway from an on-ramp or into traffic from a stop sign, turn your signal on to indicate you are about to proceed.
  • Backing up – Before putting your car in reverse, be sure to tap your brake lights to flag that you’ll be moving backwards.
  • Use signals properly – Only use your turn signals for their intended purpose of indicating a maneuver. Don’t drive with them on unnecessarily. And be sure to cancel them once the maneuver is complete.

Signaling first is a good defensive driving habit that can prevent so many accidents. Be sure to make signaling every move a reflex whenever you drive.

Step 2: Mirror

After signaling, the next step is to check your mirrors thoroughly. Here’s how to properly scan your mirrors before proceeding with any maneuver:

  • Check side mirrors – Take a quick glance in your side mirrors on both sides of the vehicle to identify any vehicles in your peripheral blind spots. Be sure to look on the side you’ll be moving towards.
  • Check rearview mirror – Scan your rearview mirror to see any traffic behind you that may be affected by your move. Again, pay extra attention to what’s happening in the lane you intend to enter.
  • Identify gaps – Try to locate gaps in traffic where you can safely merge into the adjoining lane. Make sure to watch for oncoming vehicles that could collide with you when turning across traffic.
  • Double check – Scan your mirrors a second time to confirm that your intended path is clear and that it’s safe to proceed. Be vigilant for motorcycles, which can sometimes be obscured in blind spots.

Checking your mirrors gives you the information you need to move ahead with your maneuver while avoiding accidents. So keep your eyes moving across those mirrors as you prepare to make your move.

Step 3: Over the Shoulder

After mirror checks come shoulder checks. This essential SMOG step provides visual confirmation that your blind spots are clear:

  • Look back – Briefly glance over your shoulder in the direction you plan to maneuver. This allows you to scan the critical blind spot your mirrors cannot cover.
  • Lean & turn – To maximize your view, lean your body slightly and turn your head as far as possible when shoulder checking. Avoid relying only on your peripheral vision.
  • Focus on blind spots – Concentrate on looking directly into the blind spots when shoulder checking rather than just glancing quickly. Search thoroughly for hidden vehicles and objects.
  • Double take – Shoulder check a second time to confirm no vehicles or obstacles have entered your blind spot. Be especially vigilant at night when visibility is reduced.
  • Check before backing – When reversing, look over both shoulders to cover the large blind spots created when backing up. Then, continue glancing to both sides as you slowly back up.

The over-the-shoulder check is so important for spotting dangers your mirrors simply can’t show you. So get in the habit of shoulder checking every time without fail.

Step 4: Go

The fourth and final SMOG step is simply to proceed carefully with your intended maneuver, provided you’ve verified it’s safe via steps 1-3. Here are a few tips for the go phase:

  • Yield if needed – Even if you have room to complete your maneuver, yield for other drivers when required by law or to avoid conflicts. Don’t insist on going first.
  • Ease into maneuvers – Change lanes, turn, merge, or back up cautiously in a controlled manner. Avoid sudden movements or jerks of the steering wheel.
  • Double check – Continue checking your mirrors and blind spots as you smoothly execute the maneuver to confirm your path stays clear.
  • Cancel signal – Once fully completed with any lane change or turn, toggle your turn signal again to switch it off.

By patiently waiting your turn and moving deliberately through your maneuvers, the go step allows you to safely finish what you started with the first three SMOG steps.

And that’s it – just four basic steps that guide you safely through every kind of driving maneuver when done properly. With enough practice, SMOG will become second nature and you won’t even have to think about it.

Now let’s look at some common driving scenarios where utilizing the SMOG model is crucial for safety.

Using SMOG for Lane Changes

One of the most frequent maneuvers we do in everyday driving is changing lanes. The SMOG model provides a foolproof system for making sure you do lane changes safely every single time.

Here’s a breakdown of how to execute the SMOG steps when changing lanes:


  • Activate turn signal in direction of your intended lane well before changing lanes.


  • Quickly check side mirrors to spot vehicles to the sides and rear.
  • Scan mirror on side you’re moving to thoroughly to verify lane is clear.

Over Shoulder

  • Glance over shoulder in direction of your target lane to check blind spots.
  • Focus on covering blind zone on the side you’re moving toward.


  • If no vehicles are in your path, accelerate slightly to match speed of lane you’re entering.
  • Ease your vehicle carefully into the new lane and straighten your wheel.
  • Cancel turn signal once lane change is complete.

By adhering to this SMOG sequence religiously, you’ll avoid those scary near-misses caused by failing to check blind spots when changing lanes. So ingrain it as a habit for every single lane change.

And just as important as using SMOG is knowing when NOT to change lanes, such as when you see:

  • Vehicles right beside you in the target lane
  • Fast approaching vehicles in your target lane
  • Turn signals of other drivers
  • Traffic signs prohibiting lane changes

Making smart choices about when to stay put versus change lanes safely is crucial. SMOG helps empower you to make those smart choices.

Using SMOG When Turning

Turns made at intersections and into driveways or parking lots also become much safer when utilizing the SMOG model.

Here are some tips for making proper SMOG turns:


  • Engage turn signal well in advance of your turn.
  • Signal even when turning from dedicated turn lanes.


  • Check rearview and side mirrors for vehicles that may collide with you mid-turn.
  • Monitor mirrors for pedestrians you’d intersect with during the turn.

Over Shoulder

  • Shoulder check along your intended path for hidden pedestrians or cyclists.
  • Continually glance over your shoulder during the entire turning maneuver.


  • Creep forward slowly while covering brake pedal in case you need to stop abruptly.
  • Yield to any pedestrians in the intersection before proceeding with your turn.
  • If clear, turn wheel smoothly and continue shoulder checking as you turn.
  • Cancel signal once sitting straight in your lane after the turn.

You can avoid those heart-stopping moments of nearly hitting someone hidden from view during turns by using SMOG diligently. Make it standard operating procedure for every intersection where you’ll be turning.

And don’t forget these rules of thumb for safe turns:

  • Come to complete stops when required by signs or signals before proceeding with turn.
  • Watch for passing cars with turn signals on that may turn into your path.
  • Look both ways for pedestrians before turning across crosswalks.

Mastering both SMOG and general safe turning practices makes intersections much less stressful.

Rely on SMOG When Merging

Another common scenario where the SMOG model proves invaluable is when merging onto highways from entrance ramps.

Merging into fast-moving traffic can induce anxiety in even experienced drivers. Utilizing the SMOG steps helps remove the uncertainty:


  • Activate your turn signal to inform highway drivers you’ll be merging.


  • Use side mirrors to identify gaps in traffic large enough to merge into.

Over Shoulder

  • Quickly glance over shoulder just before merging to confirm gap is still open.


  • Accelerate briskly on the ramp to match the highway speed.
  • Slide carefully into the open gap at the same speed of traffic.
  • Cancel signal once fully merged into highway lane.
  • Avoid stopping on the acceleration ramp if possible. But if you must stop, be sure to shoulder check before proceeding onto the highway.

Having a SMOG routine makes the difference between nerve-wracking merges and smooth, stress-free ones. Use it to turn complicated merges into easy-breezy driving.

Oh, and a bonus tip – when traffic is heavy, merge as soon as safely possible rather than waiting until the end of the ramp. Trying to force your way into a tight spot leads to slowdowns.

Back Up Safely Using SMOG

Probably the most dangerous maneuver we do in reverse is backing up, whether exiting a parking spot, driveway, or boat launch.

Since our vision is so limited moving backwards, having a systematic SMOG sequence is critical for avoiding tragic backover accidents:


  • Lightly tap brake pedal before shifting to Reverse to alert other drivers.


  • Check side mirrors to identify any low objects or pedestrians obscured from view.

Over Shoulder

  • Look directly over both shoulders to scan for children, pets or objects in blind zones.


  • Release brake, check mirrors & shoulders again, then SLOWLY back up straight if clear.
  • Continue glancing over both shoulders until fully in the clear.

Backing collisions claim hundreds of lives yearly. But consistently applying the SMOG model helps provide the vision you need to back up with confidence instead of fear.

So be ultra-diligent about shoulder checks before reversing since your mirrors leave huge blind spots. And when parking, think about where you’ll exit before backing in so you can drive out forward later.

SMOG Recap: A Simple Routine for Safe Driving

To recap, the SMOG model gives you a proven four-step process to follow for every maneuver on the road:

Signal – Engage proper turn signal well before beginning any change of direction.

Mirror – Thoroughly scan rearview and side mirrors on both sides for traffic.

Over Shoulder – Check blind spots by glancing over your shoulder in the direction you plan to go.

Go – Proceed carefully with your maneuver if clear, then cancel signal.

Consistently practicing the SMOG steps removes the uncertainty from lane changes, turns, merging, and backing up. They help ensure you have visibility of any hidden dangers before committing to a move.

SMOG transforms driving from an anxious endeavor to a smooth, confident experience. With enough repetition, the SMOG sequence becomes automatic and you won’t have to consciously think about it.

But don’t get complacent! Even experienced drivers should regularly refresh themselves on the SMOG model to reinforce good habits. Print this article and slap a copy on your visor or glove box as a handy reminder!

Now let’s switch gears and go over some additional safe driving tips beyond SMOG that help reduce accidents.

Bonus Safe Driving Tips

While mastering the SMOG model is a huge step towards safer driving, a few other defensive driving techniques are also important for keeping you crash-free:

Leave ample following distance – Allow 3-4 seconds between you and the vehicle ahead to provide ample time for stopping. More space is needed at faster speeds or in poor conditions.

Scan far ahead – Keep your eyes focused at least 10-15 seconds ahead of your vehicle so you can identify risks early with enough time to react.

Cover the brake – Keep your foot hovering lightly over the brake pedal when stopped so you can react quickly if needed.

Obey signs and signals – Come to complete stops at stop signs and red lights before proceeding. Only go on green lights or arrows when safe.

Yield right of way – Let pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles with the legal right of way proceed before you.

Avoid impairment – Never drive after consuming alcohol or drugs that slow reaction times. Don’t drive drowsy either.

Eliminate distractions – Refrain from cell phone use, eating, personal grooming, or any other distracting tasks while driving.

Make way for emergency vehicles – Immediately change lanes or pull over when approached by ambulances, fire trucks, or police with lights and sirens activated.

Inspect your vehicle – Check tire pressure and tread, fluids, lights, wipers, and steering regularly to prevent breakdowns or failures on the road.

Use restraints – Always wear your seat belt and insist all passengers do too. Properly restrain children in age-appropriate car seats.

Following these tips reduces the chances of being in an accident caused by your own actions. They help compensate for unsafe driving habits of other motorists too.

Practice diligent defensive driving techniques like SMOG and you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re doing all you can to protect yourself and others on the road.

Conclusion: Drive Safely with SMOG

We’ve covered a lot of ground here on the intricacies of the SMOG model and how utilizing it leads to safer driving. Let’s do a quick recap:

  • SMOG provides a simple 4-step routine – Signal, Mirror, Over shoulder, Go – to follow when making any maneuver on the road.
  • Always signal first to indicate your intent before changing direction.
  • Mirror checks ensure adjoining lanes are clear before proceeding.
  • An over the shoulder glance spots hidden vehicles in your blind spots.
  • Finally, go ahead carefully with the maneuver if no hazards are present after steps 1-3.
  • SMOG should be done every single time you change lanes, turn, merge, back up, or any other move. Repetition builds critical driving safety habits.
  • Supplement the SMOG model with other defensive driving techniques like maintaining distance, eliminating distractions, and inspecting your vehicle.

The bottom line is that having a routine like SMOG transforms driving from a tense, hit-or-miss endeavor to a smooth, confident experience. You already have enough to worry about behind the wheel without adding extra anxiety over changing lanes or making turns.

So do yourself and everyone else on the road a favor by adopting the SMOG model for all your driving maneuvers. Over time, you won’t even have to consciously think about it as the sequence becomes ingrained habit.

SMOG provides the vision and information you need to drive defensively and make smart decisions. Here’s to many miles of happy, hassle-free driving ahead!

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