Driving on Highways
Entering a Highway

Entering a Highway: Steps & Right-of-Way Rules for Merging From A Ramp

Updated Dec. 11, 2020

It is important to learn the proper procedure for entering a highway - especially where acceleration and merging are concerned. Merging with high-speed traffic can be dangerous and presents a real challenge for less-experienced drivers. Your first time may be a little stressful but with our guidance, you will get through it just fine. The secrets to safe and successful freeway entry are being vigilant, signaling and matching the speed of existing traffic.

Preparing to enter a highway

As you approach the highway interchange, pay close attention to route number road signs and directional information. Identifying your desired route should be relatively easy - depending on the design of the highway interchange – but getting on the highway traveling in the correct direction can be tricky. Entry ramps feeding into both sides of the highway are often positioned close together. If you end up traveling in the wrong direction, it could be a while before you can exit and reverse your course.

Of course, accidentally entering via an exit ramp would be a far more dangerous mistake! Should you encounter “DO NOT ENTER” or “WRONG WAY” signs on what you believe to be an entry ramp, pull over right away and turn around when it is safe to do so.

Having successfully navigated the interchange and chosen the correct ramp, you will move through a three-stage entry zone comprising of the entrance ramp, an acceleration lane and a merging area. As soon as you are able, begin scanning the right-hand lane of the expressway for gaps in the traffic. Remember that motorists already using the highway have the right-of-way.

Using entrance ramps

Also known as “on-ramps”, entrance ramps may be curved, straight, uphill, downhill or on a level with the highway. You may be able to start assessing traffic conditions on the highway from the entrance ramp if it runs adjacent to the road. At this point, drivers should scan the highway to ascertain traffic density, speed and how much space will be needed to merge successfully. Do not worry if the highway is elevated or obscured by a barrier – keep your attention focused on the end of the entrance ramp to check for hazards.

Activate your turn signal before you reach the end of the entrance ramp, to show your intention to merge into the acceleration lane. Glance over your shoulder and use your side mirror to look for a gap in the traffic.

To use entrance ramps safely:

  1. 1

    Always look at the posted speed limit as you enter the ramp and alter your speed accordingly.

  2. 2

    Do not accelerate rapidly on entrance ramps that are sharply curved.

  3. 3

    Check that you are occupying the correct lane, as there may be other lanes on the ramp which lead back to the interchange.

  4. 4

    Be prepared that traffic on the highway could be at a standstill or moving very slowly.

Look out for ramp meters

Busier interchanges may have traffic control devices known as “ramp meters”. These simple signal lights moderate the flow of vehicles entering the highway to prevent congestion and have only two signals – red and green. Never attempt to enter a highway under a red ramp meter light. A green signal usually means that one car may enter, though some interchanges may have higher limits. If two or more cars are permitted entry on a green light, this information will be displayed on a road sign.

Double merge lanes

It may be that the highway entrance ramp starts with two lanes which eventually merge into a single lane. As double merge lanes are often used on high-volume entrance ramps, it is likely the ramp will also be controlled by ramp meters. If this is the case, there may be two ramp meters – one for each lane. Make sure you observe the correct signal light for the lane you are occupying when using a double merge lane.

Using acceleration lanes

At the end of the entrance ramp, you will enter the acceleration lane, which is designed for drivers to increase their speed to match that of existing highway traffic. You must pay close attention to the speed of vehicles in the right-hand lane while using the acceleration lane, to make sure you can adjust your speed appropriately.

How rapidly you should accelerate will depend on the length of the acceleration lane. Shorter lanes demand sharper acceleration to match the speed of highway traffic before the lane ends. Keep searching for a suitable gap in traffic as you approach the end of the acceleration lane.

When traffic on the highway is flowing freely, you must merge into the right-hand lane without slowing down or stopping. Novice drivers often make the mistake of slowing down or coming to a stop at the end of the acceleration lane while trying to identify a gap in the traffic. This amounts to counter-intuitive and dangerous driving because slower speeds demand larger gaps. You should only ever stop at the end of an acceleration lane if highway traffic is too crowded and slow-moving for normal merging to be possible.

Using the merge area

The merge area follows the acceleration lane and is separated from the right-hand lane with a broken white line. Having reached an appropriate speed and signaled your intention to turn, you should use this area to merge left onto the highway.

Drivers must never attempt to merge onto a highway directly from the acceleration lane using the gore area. This triangular patch of road separates the highway and the acceleration lane and is marked out with solid white lines. The gore area is always off-limits to motorists!

Weave lanes

Weave lanes serve both as entrances and exits for highways. Conflicts in speed and space adjustments would occur between motorists entering the weave lane from the highway and those entering from the entrance ramp, therefore right-of-way must be considered. Motorists exiting the highway via the weave lane have the legal right-of-way, so you must yield when approaching from the entrance ramp.

Merging onto a highway

While motorists already using the highway have the right-of-way, they will often move over to allow drivers entering from the merge area to join. When driving past an entrance ramp on a highway, you should be aware of motorists attempting to merge and make room for them if possible.

Merging onto a highway smoothly and safely is a matter of identifying a gap large enough to accommodate your vehicle and matching the speed of traffic. Aim for a four-second space between cars, as this will afford you a two-second gap both in front and to your rear once the merge is complete. You will sometimes have to settle for a slightly smaller gap when entering a busy highway – this is normal. Just make sure that the space is not too small for you to merge safely, without disrupting the flow of traffic.

Keep these safety tips in mind when merging onto a highway:

  1. 1

    Begin signaling well before you intend to merge and continue doing so until the maneuver is complete.

  2. 2

    Maintain a safe following distance from vehicles entering the highway ahead of you, and those in front of you once you have merged.

  3. 3

    Stay alert if another driver is entering the highway ahead of you, as they could slow down or stop without warning.

  4. 4

    Look out for other vehicles already on the highway attempting to change lanes as you merge.

As soon as you have begun to enter a highway there is no going back. You must continue and safely merge with highway traffic – even if it becomes evident that you have taken a wrong turn. Stopping suddenly or attempting to turn around and exit via the entry ramp would be extremely dangerous, as other drivers around you will not anticipate it. If you realize you are traveling in the wrong direction, continue along the highway until you reach the next exit.

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