Whether you have a teen driver who’s going to be hitting the roadway soon, or you’re someone who typically avoids the highway, but you have an upcoming trip, there are certain things to know to be safe.
Highway driving can be intimidating, and it can be more dangerous than other types of roadways sometimes, but not always. In fact, rural roads can prove to be a lot more treacherous than the highway.
The following are six important things everyone should know when it comes to highway driving.
1. Statistical Safety
The U.S. Department of Transportation actually refers to all roadways designed for transportation as highways, but we most often think of highways as freeways, expressways, and interstates. Highways, in most people’s minds, are those high-speed roadways with multiple lanes that are accessible with on and off-ramps.
Roads, on the other hand, are what we think of as the streets in towns, cities, or rural areas that intersect, where you drive at a slower speed.
The traffic patterns between roads and highways are very different from one another, but the reality is that based on U.S. DOT research, your odds of being in an accident on the road are higher than on a highway.
One factor that makes highways safer than roads is the intersections. There are intersections on roads and not highways. Bad driver decision-making and navigation issues lead intersections to be one of the most dangerous places.
When you’re on roads, traffic is traveling in multiple directions at varying speeds, the drivers are constantly interacting with other vehicles and making decisions, plus there are more distractions.
Drivers are also more likely to break the traffic laws when there are more of them to follow, as is the case on roads versus highways.
There are more objects on roadways too, which increases the risks.
Some people will make a rule against highway driving, but the reality is that it’s safer than traditional roads.
2. Keep to the Right
The biggest rule to remember with highway or freeway driving is to keep right. Stay in the right lane that’s the farthest over unless you need to pass a slower driver.
A lot of drivers will break the rule, so they aren’t interrupted by traffic that emerges from the on-ramp, but it’s not a good idea.
When the traffic is light, you should spend all of your time essentially in the far-right lane. If the right lane starts to fill with slower vehicles, move to the middle lane.
Don’t travel in the far left lane unless you’re passing a vehicle. Once you pass, return to the center.
With this in mind, don’t be a squatter in the left lane. If someone is approaching you from behind, move over.
The right lanes are not only for slower traffic, but they’re also often for big trucks. In some states, semi-trucks have to stay in the far-right lanes because they’re big and slow-moving.
The far-left lane is often referred to as the fast lane.
3. Entering and Exiting
When you’re getting onto the highway or freeway via the on-ramp, you should merge at the same speed as the vehicles that are traveling in the right lane. Don’t merge slower or faster than the flow of traffic.
Most on-ramps you encounter are designed to allow you enough time to accelerate and then gain momentum so that when there’s merging, you’re entering at highway speeds.
If you’re not matching the speeds of other drivers, then they may have to brake or accelerate suddenly or change lanes.
Similar rules should be followed when you exit the freeway, but you should slow down instead of speeding up. Don’t decrease your speed until you get to the off-ramp, though. If you lower your speed while you’re still on the highway, it can lead to issues that are similar to what can happen if you merge too slowly.
4. Leave Space
When you’re driving on the highway, you want to establish the right speed and distance. You should make sure there’s at least four to six seconds of space between your car and the one in front of you.
You should learn to regularly check your mirrors and blind spot before you switch lanes.
When you give yourself more space, you have time to react to something like debris on the highway and avoid a collision.
When you’re on the highway, and you want to change lanes, don’t forget to use your signals to show your intent to do so.
5. The Signs
Some of the standard signs you’ll see on the interstate include speed limits, interchanges, and signs for entrance and exit ramps.
There are also signs that will warn drivers about potential hazards.
For example, you might see a sign indicating you’re approaching an incline. When you’re traveling uphill, you will need to accelerate more. Otherwise, you’ll slow down and contribute to a bottleneck.
If you’re going downhill, you need to be careful that you aren’t going too fast. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement to have speed traps at the bottom of hills.
If you can’t see the road ahead because of an upcoming curve, don’t drive faster than the posted limit.
6. Avoid Road Rage
AAA finds that almost 80% of drivers admit they experience road rage. That means on any given day, you might encounter eight million angry drivers.
Tailgating, honking, and yelling are the top behaviors used as retaliation in situations involving road rage.
You can’t control what other people do, but you can control your own behavior. When you’re safe and paying attention, you can reduce the likelihood of not only being in an accident but also of being involved in a situation with road rage.
Don’t impede traffic, use your turn signal and stay alert at all times. Be especially vigilant when you’re entering or exiting the highway or changing lanes.
Check your blind spots, and be courteous to the people you’re sharing the road with.