Choosing a Lane on a Highway for Safer Driving: Passing & Fast Lane RulesUpdated Oct. 25, 2020
Your first task having entered the highway is to make sure you are traveling at an appropriate speed. Drivers must moderate their speed based on the legal speed limit, the density and speed of existing traffic, road conditions and visibility. In an ideal highway driving situation, all traffic would be moving at the same speed. Traveling faster or slower than other drivers on a highway puts you at significantly greater risk of harm.
The speed at which you are traveling will also somewhat determine which lane you should choose to occupy. While avoiding all unnecessary lane changes, motorists must be prepared to change lanes whenever doing so creates a safer driving situation. The distance remaining until your intended exit will also influence your choice of lanes. We explore these and other contributing factors in detail below.
Choosing the right lane
Freeway lanes are generally organized by speed. The furthest lane to the left should be occupied by the fastest moving traffic, while the furthest lane to the right should be occupied by the slowest.
Choose the right-hand lane if:
- You are traveling at a consistently slow speed.
- Your exit is approaching, or you will be traveling on the highway for a short time.
Keep in mind that the largest vehicles using the highway will usually stick to the right lane, as their weight restricts the speed at which they can travel.
Use a center lane if:
- You are passing a vehicle in the adjacent right-hand lane. Merge back into your original lane having completed the pass.
- You are driving faster than vehicles in the adjacent right-hand lane.
- The right-hand lane is completely occupied by large vehicles and you must merge left to avoid their blind spots.
- You are moving over for stopped emergency vehicles or motorists seeking to enter the highway.
Use the left-hand lane if:
- You are traveling at high-speeds (at or just below the speed limit).
- You are using the lane to pass another vehicle in the lane to your right.
Some states prohibit using the furthest left lane of certain highways unless temporarily, to pass another vehicle. Be sure to check out your state’s driving manual to find out if, and under what circumstances, this rule applies locally.
Changing lanes to reduce risk
Choosing a lane upon entering the highway does not mean you can sit back, relax and stop paying attention to the traffic around you. Drivers must always scan the road around their vehicles to identify potentially dangerous situations. If you determine that the risk of collision would be less in a different lane, you should merge to that lane at the next safe opportunity. Remember to move over one lane at a time if your target position is several lanes away.
Always consider moving to a different lane if:
- The vehicle behind you is tailgating or following too closely. Ideally, you should respond to this by merging right into a slower lane.
- Another driver is attempting to merge into your lane and moving over would allow them more space. Of course, you should not move over if doing so would put you in a riskier situation.
Weaving through traffic
Constant lane-changing or “weaving” through traffic is dangerous and will aggravate other drivers using the highway. Irresponsible drivers often weave to “get ahead” when traffic becomes heavy. This usually worsens congestion by causing the motorists around you to reduce their speed as you weave between lanes.
You should NEVER cross multiple lanes in a single maneuver – even if you have just noticed your exit is approaching and you are in the wrong lane. If you have not prepared to leave the highway safely by merging into the right-hand lane in advance, you will need to wait until the next exit.
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