Driving on Highways
Driving on Highways

Driving on Highways: Understanding Driving Rules, Restrictions & Risks

Updated 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.

Understanding highways

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.

Highway interchanges

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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Understanding Highways
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Understanding Highways

Highways are usually the best roads to use when traveling long distance. These roads are also known as expressways, limited access highways, interstate highways, turn pikes, toll roads and freeways. Freeways are only our country’s safest roads when you know how to drive on them correctly. When traveling at high speed, amidst large volumes of traffic, enormous trucks and ever-changing conditions, motorists must be at the top of their driving game.

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Highway Driving Approaches

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Highway Safety Features

Many highly effective safety features have been implemented on interstate highways around the country over the past few decades. These features are designed to cut back on collisions, reduce off-the-road crashes and minimize annual highway fatalities by making the crashes that do occur less severe. Thanks to the improvements made under the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), United States highways are now among the safest roads in the world.

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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.

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Driving in Heavy Traffic

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.