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Module 7

Driving Environments

City, Residential and Highway Driving

Many factors affect the way you should drive. Two of those – road conditions and weather – we’ve discussed at length already. Now, you will learn more in detail about how to drive in a variety of specific situations.  Driving on the highway, for example, with its multiple lanes, on and off ramps and high speeds, is very different from how you would drive in a quiet neighborhood where children are known to play and you are looking for address numbers.

Safe and responsible drivers understand the differences between these situations and adjust their driving accordingly. This module will help you understand how you may need to adapt your driving behavior to fit the conditions of the road you are using.

Part 1: Driving in cities and residential areas

Driving in cities and residential areas can be tricky. Unlike freeway driving, where access is limited and you are pretty much going straight, city and residential area driving involves more complex navigating. There are more situations which require you to interact with other drivers who may be entering or exiting the street you are driving on.

There are intersections to deal with – and according to the Federal Highway Administration, the different approach and crossing movements by motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians make intersections one of the most complex traffic situations that people encounter.  Add the element of motorists who disregard traffic controls by speeding or making illegal turns, and the risk compounds.

Add to that quotation the fact that, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation, the most recent data available show that the location of the greatest number of crashes in Nevada in 2010 was intersections, and within that category, most crashes occurred either at 4-way intersections or T-intersections.

Downtown areas in cities may have intricate systems for managing traffic flow, such as one-way streets and dedicated bus lanes. Turns and U-turns may be restricted. There could be pedestrians at every street corner.

What all of this boils down to is this: driving in cities and residential areas means you will need more time to navigate, and at the same time you may have less time to react. This is one of the reasons why you need to reduce your speed while driving in these areas: to give yourself more time to see details, signs, and landmarks.   This will allow you to better analyze information, predict the situation, react to changes and make decisions.

The other reason you will need to reduce your speed is because it’s the law!  Our lawmakers already understood all of the above when they enacted the speed limits laws, and you’ll soon learn, if you haven’t already, that speed limits are always lower in cities and residential areas than on the open highway.

More hazards

City driving brings with it many hazards, perhaps more than with any other type of driving. City driving means being on the lookout for obstacles, such as trucks stopping to unload cargo. Give yourself enough space and distance to maneuver if you need to turn or to change lanes.  You should also look ahead for signal changes, because you will need to react often in a situation where there are a lot more cars on the road.

You may not have much space available to come to a stop in city driving, and you need to be prepared to stop suddenly. But always be careful not to accelerate too quickly or brake too suddenly because if you do, you risk losing control of your car. You should make sure you drive with the flow of traffic and slow down if the roads are overcrowded, or are slick with water.

The population density is much greater in cities than in small towns or rural areas. More people means more intersecting roads and more cars on those roads. You must be very careful to watch out for cars appearing suddenly from side streets and driveways. They may stop quickly right in front of you. In city driving you must remember that pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks; you must wait for them to clear the intersection before you proceed.

You also must be very aware of buses and taxis that could pull out in front of you after loading or unloading passengers.  Buses generally have the right-of-way, and you need to yield to them. You should stay aware of the area, watching signs for turn lanes, through streets, side streets, and one-way streets.

It is especially important in city and residential driving to choose the appropriate lane to use.  The rules regarding slow lanes and fast lanes still apply, but you have frequent intersections, side streets and turn lanes to maneuver along the way.  The best rule is to choose a less congested lane unless you are planning to turn. In that case, you should stay in the right lane for right turns and in the left lane for left turns.

The business and downtown areas of cities don’t have a monopoly on hazards, however. In residential areas, you should be on the lookout for children or pets that can run into the road without warning. Be very cautious if you observe them playing in yards, especially if they are playing with toys that may roll into the road.

In business and in residential areas, you should look ahead and all around, constantly scanning your surroundings, and be ready to slow down or stop quickly.  As soon as you see brakes lights coming on or signals changing up ahead, you should immediately cover the brake. This means you will take your foot off the gas and let it hover over the brake pedal.  This will give you a faster reaction time if you need brake quickly to avoid an accident.

Special problems associated with city traffic

Driving in cities and residential requires its own kind of focus. When you enter a busy or congested road, you should be careful of other drivers who may be driving at (or even above) the maximum speed limit.  Having a good sense of the speed that traffic is going is important; you must carefully choose a gap that will give you time and space to safely enter traffic and then accelerate to speed up or to completely cross traffic.  Be patient – even if there are cars waiting behind you — and be alert when preparing to enter city traffic.

If your view is blocked as you enter a road, go slowly and carefully while keeping your foot on the brake.  Let off the brake a bit to move ahead, but keep the pedal depressed enough to keep your brake lights lit.   Also, be aware that parked vehicles may obscure your view of traffic, either oncoming traffic or cars entering your roadway.

As you gain experience in city and residential driving, here are some tips to keep you safe and help you gain confidence:

  • Try to avoid the busiest time of day.  This means avoid rush hour traffic if at all possible. Quittin’ time will cause a lot of congestion in the downtown and business districts of many cities. The sheer volume of cars on the roads at this time will slow you down, perhaps frustrate you and increase your chances of having an accident. If you must drive during rush hour in town, then be extra cautious, especially at intersections.
  • Plan your route with a map or navigation device. It can be difficult enough navigating city streets when you know exactly where you are going. If you have to search for streets or look at a map as you go, you increase your chances of not seeing and reacting to a sudden hazard in time. Clearly write out your directions step by step or use GPS (set the controls completely before you head out). Only look at your directions if you are pulled to the curb or stopped at a stop sign or light. Know the names of streets before your turns;  otherwise you will be signaling and slowing at the last minute.
  • Look ahead as you approach an intersection. City blocks frequently have restricted lanes for each direction to help manage traffic flow. Looking well ahead will allow you to see what lane you need to be in by looking at the pavement markings on the road as well as signs that are posted on the intersection approach. Looking ahead will also let you know if you are even allowed to turn in the direction you want to go in. This will also help you be prepared for unexpected problems at the intersection.
  • Turn only when you are sure it is safe and legal. City streets can be confusing, especially if you aren’t used to them. If you are not sure you can safely and legally make your turn, go straight, and turn farther on, when you come to a spot where you know it is safe and legal to turn.
  • Watch for pedestrians. As we’ve said, lots of people live in cities. Those people often walk to work or shops, and they have the right-of-way at intersection crosswalks. Residential areas have pedestrians as well.  You should always be on the lookout for pedestrians that may be on a corner curb just about to step down onto the street; you must always stop for a pedestrian about to cross in front of your car, even if he or she isn’t in the crosswalk.  Just because a person on foot doesn’t have the right-of-way doesn’t mean you can keep going and hit them!
  • Conditions and rules change. The visual clutter in cities can be a little overwhelming. Signs are everywhere. And amidst this welter of signs, you need to spot signs that alert drivers to road rules, directions and restrictions. They are posted on city roads, intersections and residential streets.  Make sure you watch very closely for prohibitive signs, such as “One Way” or “Do Not Enter,” and for pavement markings, such as bike lanes.
  • Look at the color of the divider lines on the road you turn onto when turning left. The color of divider lines is probably the quickest way to know if the road is a one way or two way street, other than seeing “One Way” signs. If the divider line is yellow, get on the right side of it —it’s a two-way street.  White divider lines only (with no yellow sign at all) indicate a one-way street and you may turn into the left lane when making a left turn.
  • If you turn the wrong way onto a one-way street, quickly and calmly look for the nearest place to pull over and turn around. Don’t panic – other drivers will stay clear of you until you get turned around in the right direction, but don’t be surprised if they honk or flash their lights at you to make you aware of your error. Don’t let that fluster you.  If you turned into a wrong lane do not immediately swerve into the correct lane. Wait until you can safely lane change into the correct lane.
  • Look first left, then right, then left again before entering any city intersection. This is important, as people often run red lights in cities as they are unwisely trying to beat the yellow light. The reason you check left again just before entering is this:  the first car on the cross street that can possibly hit you will be coming from the left.

Backing up safely

You must be extra careful when backing up at all times – especially in busy city traffic.  Even if your car is equipped with backup assistance (such as cameras), you should still take a few precautions:

  • Check behind your car for children, pets and objects
  • Make sure you have enough clearance on all sides
  • You should place your left hand on the wheel at 10:00 o’clock, turn your head around to look behind you and rest your right arm on the back of the passenger seat
  • When backing around corners and sharp turns, make sure you watch your clearance on all bumpers
  • Keep looking out the rear window while backing slowly, with only quick glances at your mirrors
  • If you have passengers, ask them to help you navigate

The safest option is to avoid having to backup whenever possible; try to find parking spaces that do not require you to reverse.

Driving on rural roads

Compared to busy city streets, rural areas can seem quite tame. There are fewer intersections, fewer pedestrians to worry about, and you probably hear fewer car horns blaring. But rural roads have their own dangers you need to be aware of. Here are some tips that will help to ensure your safety while driving on rural roads:

  • Be aware of the speed limit. Speed limits on rural roads can be surprisingly low, given the relatively sparse level of traffic. On top of that, you’re not likely to see many speed limit signs posted; they can be far and few between. That’s why you are required to know the Nevada general speed limits (which we learned earlier: 55 mph on a paved road with one lane in each direction, and 65 mph on a rural highway with 2 lanes or more in each direction, and 70 mph on the rural portion of an interstate freeway).  When you first get on a rural road and don’t see a speed limit sign, drive at or under the general limit for that type of road until you see one.
  • Use caution when passing. Rural roads with one lane in each direction often have long, straight stretches of road that can be used for passing – but only with caution. If you need to pass a slower car, double check the markings on the road to make sure passing is legal in that particular stretch.
  • Watch for hidden driveways. There may not be many people out in rural areas compared to the city, but those who choose these areas often live directly off of rural highways. Do be mindful of hidden driveways. If a rural road is curvy or hilly, driveways can be difficult to see until you are close. This could put you in danger of colliding with another vehicle as it is pulling onto the road – especially if its driver didn’t see you.
  • Slow-moving vehicles can often be found on rural roadways. Drivers on rural roads must share the roadway with some unusual and unusually slow vehicles, such as farm equipment. Keep a safe distance between you and slow-moving machinery. There’s a good chance the drivers of this equipment have limited visibility. If you attempt to pass a large piece of equipment on a rural roadway, make sure that you have plenty of time and space to do it safely. And don’t forget to be courteous — they have the right to use the road, too.
  • Animals and livestock may move across rural roads. Chicken jokes aside, there are road signs posted that indicate the places where livestock are likely to cross the road, but that may not always be the case. If you happen to see a group of cattle or other livestock being moved from one side of a rural road to another, (which you should be able to spot from quite a distance), be sure to slow down, then stop and wait for the animals to clear the roadway. Be careful not to spook the animals by revving your engine or blowing your horn. And a last point (this should be obvious): definitely stay inside your car.
  • Rural roadways are darker.  There are fewer streetlights on rural roads, which means you’ll have to rely on your headlights. You may need to use your high beams, but don’t forget to dim them again if a car is approaching you from the opposite site. Remember not to “outdrive” your headlights – don’t drive faster than you can safely brake if you see a hazard at the outer edge of the area illuminated by your headlights.
  • Lack of signs or accurate maps.  There are fewer signs on rural roads, and maps may not be up-to-date.  Driving at a reasonable speed will improve your chances of seeing what signs are there in order to keep from getting lost.
  • The roads are unpredictable.  With the possible exception of the desert, rural roads do not often take straight paths. Rural roads are often characterized by curves, bends, hills and blind curves. These road features can make it even harder to see other cars or driveways. Add fewer streetlights to the mix and you’ve got a recipe ripe for collisions if you are not cautious and aware.
  • The roads are narrow.  As mentioned above, rural roads are often two-lane undivided roads with just a centerline separating the two directions of traffic. The lack of any kind of barriers between the two lanes obviously increases the risk of a head-on collision. On top of that, rural roads often lack shoulders and guard rails to help drivers in an emergency maneuver, so it is crucial that you are in top form when driving on these roads, especially at night. Often there is nowhere to stop in an emergency; if you break down you could wind up blocking the road. You already know in that situation to get out of your car and move away from the road.
  • Rough or damaged road surface. Some rural roads are in disrepair; there may be potholes or they may even be unpaved.  Soft surfaces, gravel and dirt do not provide secure traction for your tires, so use caution. These surfaces can also be rough on the car’s suspension system.
  • Watch your fuel levels. You can go miles on rural roads before you see a gas station. Be cautious about distances between services on rural roads, especially in bad conditions or hazardous stretches of road, like across the desert.  Be sure to check your fuel levels before you start to drive and fill up if necessary.  You don’t want to run out of gas, for example, in the middle of the desert in the middle of summer!

Part 2: Driving on the highway

Highway roads are generally flat, wide and well-maintained.  There are some aspects of highway driving and some highway features that you should be aware of before you set out on the Interstate.  Driving on a highway can be both predictable and unpredictable at the same time.  On the one hand, the rules of driving are generally known and there are not many obstacles or unexpected features on the roads themselves.  On the other hand, there can be areas where the risk of collisions is greater – and you need to know where these areas are, so you can prepare.

When we say highways, we are talking about multi-lane roads that do not have intersections or side streets. In some cases, entry and exit points are limited. Because of this design, drivers are allowed to travel at higher speeds than they can on other roads. Because speed increases the severity of trauma from crashes, however, it is important to know how to drive safely on a highway.

Many new drivers are afraid to drive on highways: the speeds are faster than they’re used to, there are more lanes of traffic, there are large trucks, and it can take a while to get used to merging.   Divided highways, fortunately, do have a number of safety advantages over other roads:

  • Divided highways do not have cross traffic or intersections
  • Because traffic is divided, the likelihood of a head-on crash is decreased
  • Wide shoulders provide an emergency escape route

Planning a route in advance

It’s a good idea to plan your exact route before you get on the highway. Navigation systems can help by giving you verbal directions along the way, but you should at least know the basic information about how to get to where you are going in case the navigation system fails.  For highway driving, you will need to know:

  • Highway name and number ( I-80 )
  • Direction of travel ( N, S, E, W )
  • Where to get on the highway (Exit 24)
  • Exit number and the name of the town, road or highway for the next part of your route (Exit 36, Henderson, Route 515)

It’s important to know how to read a map and use one when traveling on routes you don’t know very well.  Look for guide signs along the side of the highway or on overhead passes, which will tell you distance and direction. If possible, try to plan your travel to avoid unfamiliar or congested traffic situations.  For example, rush hour on weekdays would not be a good time to travel, if you can avoid it.  You should also be aware of heavier traffic on holiday weekends, when more people are on the roads on Friday and Sunday evenings.

Special highway problems

On highways with just two lanes in each direction, it is a good idea to stay in the right lane as much as possible, unless you need to move over at an interchange to let someone else on, or if you need to pass a slow vehicle. The center lane is a good one to travel on for multiple-lane highways, as long as you keep up with the flow and maintain safe following distance. On these highways the right lane is generally reserved for slow moving traffic and interchange access.

Remember: on two-lane and multiple-lane highways the left lane is for passing.  You can create a real safety hazard on the road if you insist on hanging out in that lane to travel. While it certainly is not legal to speed, those unwise drivers who do go well above the speed limit tend to do so in this lane, and you could suddenly have a line of very impatient, speeding drivers behind you if you use the left lane. This creates not only congestion but frustration and anger, and eventually invites collisions. You should avoid riding in the left lane on any highway for long periods of time.

And remember to go with the flow of traffic at all times – a car that is not driven with the flow of traffic can be a serious hazard on the highway!
You may have noticed the last time you were a passenger on the highway that these roads often have minimum speeds posted as well as maximum speeds. That’s because, as we said above, it can be dangerous to go too slowly on a highway. You should follow the posted maximum and minimum speed limits on the highway unless conditions are such that you need to adjust, such as for:

  • The weather and road conditions – is the road slick from rain? Is there a rough, graded patch that’s part of a roadwork project?
  • The flow of traffic – smart drivers slow down in response to certain conditions, and if all of a sudden everyone else is slowing down, you should, too. Conversely, if it’s a clear, dry day without an unusual amount of traffic, you likely don’t need to restrict your driving to the minimum posted speed. The maximum is probably fine as long as you are following good driving behavior.
  • The amount of traffic – it’s unlikely that you or anyone else can drive the maximum when rush hour traffic congestion kicks in. Adjust your speed to maintain safe following distance.
  • The type of vehicles near you – watch out for those big tractor-trailer rigs. Give them plenty of space. Adjust your speed so you can respond safely if they need to come into your lane.
  • Any road construction restrictions – very often the speed limit is lowered and posted in construction zones. Respect that, or you could face a double fine.

The minimum speed can be as low as 40 miles per hour on the highway.  Stay in the right lane if you need to drive slower than the flow of traffic.  If you are traveling slower than the speed limit, you may want to turn on your hazard lights so that other drivers are alerted to be cautious. Depending on why you need to travel slower and for how long, you may want to choose an alternate route and not use the highway at all if you can avoid it.

Whenever you drive on the highway, the higher speeds you will be traveling at demand that you keep enough space between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you and the one behind you.  In the past, driver education taught the new driver to estimate this “space cushion” by mentally measuring it in “car lengths.”  However, we now measure it in terms of “seconds.”  You will learn about the “3-second rule” in great detail later in this course, when we focus on defensive driving.

Pass with care

Always use a great deal of caution when passing other cars and vehicles. This is especially true for two-lane roads. When passing on two-lane roads, you should be extremely careful when driving over the centerline into the oncoming traffic lanes.  The road will be marked by two solid yellow centerlines if passing is unsafe.  You should never pass across double solid lines.  Where passing in oncoming lanes is allowed, there will be a solid yellow line on the left with a dashed yellow line on the right, closest to you on the road.

You have a limited distance to pass if the road ahead is clear.  You should signal your intent to pass and accelerate a short distance behind the car you are passing.  As you move into the left side of the road, signal that you are moving to the right, accelerate to safely pass and return to the proper lane once you can see the headlights of the car you just in your rearview mirror.  Look over your shoulder to be sure.  Some safety tips to remember about passing:

  • Never pass on a hill, a curve or on a bridge – either your visibility is impaired or there may be no shoulder to escape to should something unexpected happen
  • If you see an oncoming car, do not attempt to pass
  • Never pass more than one car at a time
  • Look ahead to side streets where other cars may be entering the road
  • You should never pass another car in or near an intersection or side street
  • Never pass a school bus
  • Never pass on the right

When you are deciding whether it is safe to pass, first identify the safe distance needed to complete the pass.  You need to figure out whether there is going to be enough space for  you to pull back into the proper lane. Be sure to check for any traffic ahead, going in either direction.  You want to be careful that there aren’t any cars ahead that will be stopping or turning as you are passing.    Take the following steps to pass safely once you see an opportunity to pass:

  • Scan for hazards: Make sure there are no hazards on the road ahead, like side streets, driveways, turning or stopping vehicles
  • Oncoming vehicles: Look in the oncoming lane for approaching vehicles
  • Vehicles approaching from rear: Check behind you to be sure there are no other cars trying to pass you
  • Merging vehicles: Make sure there are no other vehicles trying to enter your lane ahead of you
  • Check blind spots: Look over both shoulders to check blind spots, check your side and rearview mirrors
  • Signal intent: Turn on your left turn signal
  • Warn the driver ahead: Flash your lights or honk quickly to let the driver know you are passing
  • Re-check conditions ahead: Make sure nothing has changed on the road ahead
  • Identify a return space: Verify that there is enough space to pass and move back into the proper lane
  • Signal return: Turn on your right signal to indicate that you are moving back into the lane

If someone is passing you, be polite. Maintain your speed and allow them to pass. You might even need to slow down just a bit to let them get back into the proper lane more quickly, especially if you see an oncoming car in the distance.

Leaving the highway

As a safe and responsible driver, you need to prepare for leaving the highway.  Keep an eye on the green road signs that tell you the distance to your exit.  The small mile markers can also give you an indication of how far up the road your exit is. Be sure to move into a right lane well ahead of your exit so you are prepared when you get to that point.

Highway Mountain Roads

Not all highways are flat, and mountain highway driving in particular can be tricky.  Some vehicles cannot maintain the same levels of speed as others when they climb hills.  For example, heavy tractor-trailers will climb a hill more slowly than a regular car – and very often these trucks turn on their hazard lights while on hills to warn other drivers of their slower speed.  The tractor-trailer truck will also need to maintain more braking control, mostly through low gear driving, in order to maintain a safe speed coming down.  You definitely want to leave more following space between you and other vehicles when driving in the mountains – especially when driving downhill.

If you are driving a standard transmission car in the mountains, you may have to use your transmission to help manage the power of the vehicle.  You can use lower gears to increase power on steep inclines, but be careful not to go too fast and damage the transmission.  On the downhill, you should use your lower gears to slow the speed of the car on steep descents to save your brakes.  Using the brakes too much risks brake failure or overheating. And you do not want to be driving in the mountains with compromised brakes!

It is especially important in mountain driving to make sure your car is well maintained. If you are worried that your engine, transmission, brakes, steering or suspension are not up to par for mountain driving, don’t do it!  Here are some other issues to consider when driving in the mountains:

  • You might notice a loss of power for hill climbing and passing at higher altitudes
  • Your car could overheat at higher altitudes, given the heavier demands of highway driving
  • Be extremely careful when meeting or approaching other vehicles on narrow, steep roadways
  • Use care when meeting other cars at hilltops or at night, when visibility is severely limited
  • Watch out for those slow-moving vehicles, like tractor-trailers
  • Beware of animals in the roadway when crests and curves mean less visibility

Road and weather conditions can change abruptly and dangerously in the mountains. Inform yourself of the conditions you can find out ahead of time, and be prepared to respond to those that change along the way. The most common hazards you might encounter in mountain driving are:

  • Dangerous or changing weather conditions
  • Slick roads, rough roads, road wear and potholes
  • Construction zones
  • Narrow roads, deep curves along cliff faces or along cliff edges, limited guardrails, limited shoulder or emergency lane space.
Freeway driving

Entering and Merging

One of the most challenging parts of learning how to drive on the freeway is actually the very first thing you need to do:  merging onto it seamlessly. Merging can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it.

Just picture this for a moment:  You’ve been driving in the city. let’s say, in busy Las Vegas, at a speed of 25, or 35 mph, and now you are going to get on a freeway.  Just getting a glimpse of how those cars are whizzing by can make you wonder how they ever got from 35 mph to 65 mph in what seems like a few seconds.

The answer is in the realm of engineering and the expert planning that went into building our freeways.

Once you understand how the on-ramp (also known as the “acceleration lane”) works and get a little practice, you’ll soon be able to merge seamlessly.

You may have noticed that an on-ramp is usually very long—the longer the better.  The reason it is built that way is to give you the space you need to build up your speed to match the speed of traffic on the freeway.

Keep in mind that vehicles already on the freeway have the right-of-way, so the rule about speed (this is one instance where the law cannot advise you on the exact speed you have to be going) is:  You must use your time on the acceleration lane to judge the speed of the cars already moving in the lane you’re going to enter, and accelerate to match that speed by the time you reach that lane. And while you’re doing that, you’ve also got to pick out a space between two vehicles that you can ease into when entering.

It is not safe to pull in front of someone on any road, whether ordinary or freeway, who is going faster than you! Always use your turn signals to let other drivers know your intentions and make sure they can see you.  Keep your signal on until you are completely on the freeway.

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Here’s what you need to do to merge safely:
  • Look for a gap in traffic
  • Position your car so you enter the traffic flow between vehicles
  • Yield to the vehicle farther ahead as you merge
  • Do not cross the painted islands separating lanes; it is illegal and dangerous!
When you merge, be aware of the potential for:
  • Sudden slowing or stopping by other cars
  • Merging at too slow a speed
  • No acceleration lane or a short acceleration lane
  • Double merge lanes
  • Merge lanes that overlap exit lanes
  • High Occupancy Vehicle and special lanes

In almost all cases, you will enter the highway on the far right lane. Once in a great while, however, you might find the on ramp leading up to the left lane. Once you are on the highway, you should choose your lane based on the road, weather conditions and your speed. It is better to stay in the slower lane or middle lanes. Avoid traveling in the fast lane for an extended period of time; this lane should be used for passing. As always, make sure you signal properly and check that the lane is clear behind you and ahead of you before you change lanes.  Definitely watch for other drivers who may be changing lanes at the same time – and give yourself time and space to respond by maintaining a safe speed and distance from other cars.

Once you’re cruising along, it is important to stay focused on the task:  be aware of other drivers who may need to enter your lane, especially around entry or exit ramps or where the road may split off and lead to another freeway. Let other drivers have the space to move in front of you; it is the right thing for a safe and responsible driver to do.  When you see an interchange coming ahead and you want to stay on the freeway you’re on, it’s a good idea to move one lane over to the left if you can. This creates space near the o- ramp for those cars that are exiting and those that will be entering.

In addition to higher speeds, interchanges and congestion, freeways sometimes have other features you need to know about. Some of the challenges you may encounter include:
  • Toll Booths: Sometimes you have to pay to use a particular highway; as a passenger you’ve probably already seen a line of tollbooths spanning the entire freeway. As a driver, you are required to stop and pay the toll. Be sure to look carefully for the signs telling you which tollbooth lane you need to use; some are set up to receive automatic payment devices only, some may accept credit cards and some may accept cash only. Figure out which one applies to you, then slow down and follow the instructions.  Be cautious when entering the tollbooth area; make sure you have enough clearance on both sides of the car and that you are close enough to the window to pay the toll.
  • Special Designated lanes: Some highways have HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes that can only be used by vehicles carrying two or more people.  They are also called “carpool lanes” and are almost always the farthest left lane of the highway and are marked with a special symbol in the shape of a diamond. If there are more than two people in your vehicle, making you eligible to drive in the HOV lane and you want to use it, make sure you enter and exit it only at the designated spots.  Some highways also have special lanes for buses and public safety vehicles.

There are also some freeway entrance ramps that have meters. These on ramps have more than one travel lane, and each of those entry lanes is controlled by a separate ramp meter that controls traffic by allowing only one car at a time to enter the freeway.

Exiting the Freeway

The exit ramp, (also called the off-ramp or deceleration lane), is just the opposite of the on-ramp; like the on-ramp, the off-ramp also is long, but the reason for the length in this case is  to allow you to slow down to the lower speed limit you will need to be driving at when you enter the traffic at the end of the off-ramp , leading up to the exit ramp gives you a chance to safely reduce your speed before you exit. There will be signs telling you what the reduced speed limit is for that particular exit ramp. Watch out for sharp curves, stop signs and traffic lights at the end of the exit ramp.

If you miss your exit, do not make any sudden maneuvers to try to take it at the last minute!  And never, never try to cross several lanes at once.  This is dangerous and could lead to a very serious highway accident. Just continue to the next exit and then you can decide how to proceed – it might be as simple as getting back on the freeway in the other direction and driving back to your intended exit.  Do not compromise your safety because you made a simple mistake!

Highway problems and emergencies

We hope you never have to deal with these, but it’s important to know how to handle a problem or emergency on a highway, whether it is a local or state highway, or a freeway.  Any problem can happen fast.   The most important thing you can do to handle a problem on the highway, however, is to do all you can to avoid one in the first place. Arm yourself with understanding and common sense. Here are some special situations you may encounter:.

  • Speed hypnosis: This can be a serious risk on the highway. It is easy to fall into the flow of traffic and wind up driving faster than you meant to, and you can lose track of how fast you are going. Glance down at your speedometer every few minutes to double check it, or use your cruise control if it is safe to do so.
  • Highway fatigue:  Highway driving can offer beautiful scenery. It can also be dull after a while. You may sense a lull after driving along at the same speed for an extended period of time. This can make you feel sleepy.  It’s important to stop for a break every couple of hours when driving on the highway – and never drive when you are too tired.
  • Trucks:  There are more trucks, buses and other large vehicles on the highway than you will encounter in city or residential driving.  This can increase the risk of collision.  As a general rule, if the highway has 2 lanes or more in each direction, trucks must stay in the right lanes, except to pass.  You can pass trucks in the right lanes if you need to.  Try to avoid being boxed in behind a truck – or in front of one. If a large vehicle is following you too closely, try moving over to a left lane and increasing your speed to avoid it.
  • Obstacles and accidents:  Some obstacles, like pieces of retread tires from tractor trailers, may pop up out of nowhere.  You’re in a better position to respond safely to these obstacles if you are always scanning the road far ahead and keeping plenty of distance between you and other vehicles. Accidents involving your fellow travelers can, of course, happen at any time.  If you come upon an accident, carefully apply your brakes, quickly scan to see what your options are, signal and move out of the way if you can.
  • Traffic jams:  Highway rush hour traffic can come to a near standstill. Accidents can also cause a major traffic backup. Really all you can do in these situations is be patient and aware. It’s a good idea to know which radio stations carry the traffic report – if you know what’s happening and how long it is likely to last, you can decide if it’s worth it to pull over and park to wait it out.
  • Road construction: This can be a common occurrence. Work on highways requires all drivers to slow down and obey all signs and directions from workers.  If you speed or violate other rules in a construction zone, you could face doubled fines or even criminal charges. Watch out for barriers, traffic cones, markers, shifting or narrowing lanes, uneven or slick pavement. Always slow down in construction zones:  this should be an automatic reaction on your part as soon as you see the orange signs or cones.
  • Emergency services: When you see an emergency vehicle driving to an accident, you should look for your first chance to move over to the far right of the road.  If you see emergency vehicles along the side of the road, or a stranded car, you should move one lane to the left.  This reduces the risk of a side-swipe collision. You want to be very careful not to harm those who have to use the shoulder or emergency lane to help deal with the emergency.
  • Breakdowns: Always keep your car in good repair! That said, if you do have a breakdown on the highway, you should pull over on the shoulder or the emergency lane as soon as possible.  Signal as you pull over, and turn on your hazard lights (flashers) if the condition of your vehicle forces you to go too slowly on the highway itself—you need to let other drivers know you’re in trouble so they will take measures to avoid hitting you.

Otherwise, if the car is not so disabled, wait until you’re off the road to turn on your hazard lights.  Once you’re on the shoulder, what happens next is vitally important: you and all passengers should get out of the car and move away from it, to protect yourselves in case another driver fails to see your car in time and collides with it.

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