Driving in Heavy Traffic
Driving in Heavy Traffic

Driving in Heavy Traffic Like A Pro: Navigating Busy Roads & Intersections

Updated Aug. 14, 2020

Heavy traffic is a major contributing factor to many complex risk environments, such as limited access highways, urban areas, complex intersections and multi-lane roads. When sharing the roadway with a large volume of other motorists, drivers must be able to multitask. While monitoring the area around your vehicle, you will also need to scan the road ahead, position your vehicle appropriately, maintain a safe speed and ensure you are in the correct lane.

Splitting your attention between these many different tasks is not easy, especially when there are so many distracting sights and sounds around your vehicle. It can also be a challenge to determine who has the right-of-way in heavy traffic. Learning to drive defensively is the key to staying safe in a complex risk environment when many other vehicles are on the road. You must remain alert and stay “one step ahead” of potential dangers. Even very minor errors can have serious consequences on a busy street.

Traffic at intersections

Navigating intersections is extremely challenging for new drivers – particularly during heavy traffic. Every new intersection you encounter will have a unique set of complex risks. Within a few moments, as you approach an intersection, you must determine whether it is controlled or uncontrolled, whether you must yield or stop, which signs and signals are present and which lane you must be in. It can be easy to get distracted and make mistakes when there are many other road users attempting to navigate the intersection at the same time.

Here, we discuss the tactics you must employ to safely drive through an intersection with heavy traffic without breaking driving rules, getting into conflict with other drivers or being involved in a collision. As the statistics in this module will demonstrate, the risk of such events occurring at an intersection is worryingly high!

Driving on multi-lane roadways

Heavy traffic can be difficult to manage on a two-lane street, what about when multiple lanes are present? Diving on a congested multi-lane road is perhaps one of the most complex risk environments there is. In this situation, motorists must often contend with tightly packed vehicles moving to their front, rear and on both sides.

Avoiding conflict on a busy, multi-lane road demands continuous adjustments in speed and lane position, to maintain space around your vehicle and keep the flow of traffic moving. This will take a great deal of concentration, but you must still have some mental energy left over to monitor road conditions up ahead, check for lane blockages and prepare for an approaching turn-off. There is a lot to consider - all of which we explore in our “Heavy Traffic on Multi-lane Roadways” module.

Turns on multi-lane roads

It is easy to get confused about which lane you should use when turning from one multi-lane road onto another. Where you begin a turn will depend on whether you need to turn left or right and if any dedicated turn lanes or relevant signals are present at the intersection. These considerations are discussed in detail, in this section.

In terms of which lane you should end up in having completed a turn on a multi-lane roadway, the rules are surprisingly simple to grasp. Drivers must never attempt to change lanes during an intersection and must always aim for the lane which corresponds to the one they began in. Do not worry if you are still feeling a little mixed-up, as this issue is explained fully in the final module of this section. We also discuss turning left on a multi-lane road, which poses additional risks as motorists must pass across lanes of opposing traffic.

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Dealing with Heavy Traffic At Intersections
Driving in Heavy Traffic 2 of 4

Heavy Traffic at Intersections

The risk of being involved in a collision is considerable at intersections – particularly during rush hour and other times when traffic is heavy. Recent collision data indicates that around 47 percent of all crashes occur at intersections – including roughly half of all crashes which result in injury.

Dealing with Heavy Traffic on Highways
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Heavy Traffic on Multi-lane Roads

Driving on busy, multi-lane roads requires constant vigilance. With traffic and potential hazards in-front, behind and on both sides of your vehicle, the risk of an accident or collision occurring is high. At a moment’s notice, you must be ready to alter your speed or lane position to avoid danger.

Making Turns At Multi-Lane Intersections
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Turns on Multi-lane Roads

Making turns at intersections on multi-lane roads is a little more complicated than it is at dual-lane intersections. Multi-lane intersections often have additional lanes or dedicated “turn lanes” for motorists wishing to turn. The risk of conflict with other motorists when turning from one multi-lane road onto another multi-lane road is high. You can mitigate this risk by yielding to all other traffic crossing the intersection before executing the turn.

Driving on Rural Roads 1 of 3

Driving on Rural Roads

Driving on rural roadways can be every bit as dangerous as driving on high-speed freeways or crowded city roads. The dangers themselves are fewer on rural roads, though the overall risk is greater. Limited visibility, lack of road signs, careless driving and changeable roadways conditions make rural traffic fatalities tragically common.

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Dangers on Rural Roads

Despite the slow pace of life, low traffic volume and quiet countryside which typify most rural communities in America, drivers are more likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a rural road than they are anywhere else. In 2016, the NHTSA recorded 37,461 traffic deaths overall. Of these fatalities, 18,590 (50 percent) occurred in rural areas.

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Approaches to Rural Driving

Staying safe on rural roads depends on remaining alert, giving yourself the best possible view of the road ahead and making sure you have enough time to stop or maneuver to avoid a collision. Do not take any chances if your feel yourself tiring on a rural road. Find the next safe place to pull over and consider taking a short nap before proceeding on your journey.

Driving on Curves & Hills 1 of 3

Curves and Hills

When driving through a stretch of road that is not flat, or straight, a motorist must contend with additional forces acting on their vehicle. Adjustments in speed and lane position must be made to counteract these forces and maintain control. Furthermore, line of sight may be impeded by the mid-point of a curve or the crest of a hill.

Driving on Curves & Hills 2 of 3

Driving Through Curves

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to navigate curves in the road safely, though you will need to understand the forces acting on your vehicle and learn how to maintain control. When driving through any curve in the road, the circular pathway of your vehicle will create a centrifugal force which pulls it toward the outside edge of the curve. Always be on the lookout for curves in the road ahead of you and make any necessary speed and position changes as soon as possible.

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Driving on Hills

Driving on hills presents many of the same challenges as driving on a curved road. Your ability to see opposing traffic may be impeded by the crest of the hill and additional forces will be acting on your vehicle. Whereas centripetal and centrifugal forces will affect your car while driving through a curve, hill driving means you must contend with gravity. The steeper the hill, the greater this effect will be.