Driving on Highways: Understanding Driving Rules, Restrictions & RisksUpdated Dec. 11, 2020
Highways are the backbone of the United States’ transportation system. Together, they connect every major population in the country. These high-speed, limited-access roads make it possible to travel long distances conveniently and safely - providing you abide by the rules and avoid taking unnecessary risks.
During this section of the course, we discuss everything you must know to use limited access highways confidently. The information you will encounter here applies to most American highways, though you must also check out your state’s own driving manual for locally applicable details.
In this introductory module, we explore the advantages and risks associated with highway driving. “Understanding highways” talks you through the major road signs you can expect to encounter while using a freeway, alongside some useful advice on interpreting them. While highway driving rules vary a little around the United States, certain restrictions apply pretty much coast to coast. These general restrictions, alongside highway speed limits and the “move over” law are also covered in this sub-section.
Safe driving approaches
While highways are among our nation’s safest roads, the likelihood of being involved in a fatal collision on a limited-access highway is substantially greater than it is anywhere else. The basic safety rules you must follow to avoid highway collisions are laid out in our “Safe driving approaches” section. These include tips on sharing the road with large vehicles, avoiding blind spots and controlling your vehicle at high-speed.
Highway safety features
By design, highways are our country’s safest roads. Wider lanes make it easier to maintain a safe space around your vehicle, while central barriers and guard rails help to keep traffic on the road in the event of an accident. In this section, we introduce the sophisticated safety features present on our nation’s highways. Find out what measures have been put in place to prevent or reduce the severity of highway accidents.
The absence of conventional intersections allows highway drivers to cover vast distances at high-speed, without ever having to yield or stop for cross traffic. Motorists may enter and exit the highway at interchanges, which are present at strategic intervals along every route. While no two interchanges are quite the same, certain basic designs are used in most instances around the country. In our “highway interchanges” section, we describe the four-way, three-way and highway-to-secondary-road interchanges you are most likely to encounter when entering or exiting the highway.
Entering a highway
The proper procedure for entering a highway is the first practical knowledge you will need when using one of these high-speed roads. There are risks involved in highway entry, as drivers must choose the correct entry point, dramatically increase their speed and merge with existing highway traffic – all in a relatively short space of time.
Fortunately, entering a highway is pretty straight-forward once you know what you are doing. This section of the course teaches you how to use entrance ramps, acceleration lanes and merge lanes correctly. We also discuss weave lanes, ramp meters, and how to prepare for your highway entrance ahead of time.
Choosing a lane on a highway
Having entered the highway, motorists must know how to choose an appropriate lane. This can be a little daunting, especially on highways with more than three lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. Luckily for you, the same rules apply no matter what the size of the road.
The speed at which you should travel increases with each lane further to the left you move. It is usually better to occupy a slower-moving right-hand lane, using central and left-hand lanes when you need to pass another vehicle. Of course, various other factors – such as traffic volume, blind spots and new traffic entering the highway - must also be considered when choosing a lane. “Choosing a lane on a highway” covers this information in full.
With no intersections to consider, most maneuvering you will engage in while on the actual highway will involve changing lanes. It is important to remember that every lane-change you make puts you and other drivers around you at risk.
Unnecessary lane changes should be avoided though you must be prepared to move if your current position on the highway is not as safe as it could be. Every decision you make must allow you to keep up with the flow of traffic, maximize the space around your vehicle and maintain a clear view of the road ahead. Learn about maneuvering and passing on an expressway during this portion of the course.
Special highway areas
This module deals with special areas and unusual features you may encounter while using a highway. Toll booths are installed on highways where motorists must pay a fee to use the road. While you may only come across toll booths infrequently, you must know how to use them and mitigate the additional risks involved. The module also covers High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, including the proper procedures for entering and exiting these lanes, and which drivers may use them.
Exiting a highway
At this point, you will have learned how to enter a highway, choose the correct lane and navigate any special areas safely. Now it is time to learn how to leave the highway when your exit approaches. Safely exiting the highway is easy, if you watch out for guide signs and prepare for your turn off in good time. Of course, like entering a highway, exiting poses additional risks. The information in this module teaches you how to use exit lanes, deceleration lanes and exit ramps while preparing you to deal with the signs, traffic signals and traffic conditions you will encounter having made your exit.
Highway construction zones
This final section deals with one further special situation you may encounter when traveling on a highway. Construction and maintenance work zones expose motorists and construction workers to such heightened risk that these special areas deserve a section of their own!
When approaching a highway work zone, drivers must reduce their speed and be ready to adhere to a whole new set of rules. Signs, signals, cones, barriers and traffic control personnel may be present at these sites to guide drivers through or around the area where work is being conducted. Extreme caution must be used when navigating a highway work zone; failure to abide by the rules could land you with a much higher traffic fine than usual. Read our highway construction zone rules carefully, to find out how driving behavior must be adjusted around work sites.
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