Driving on Highways
Step-by-Step Instructions to Exiting a Highway

Merging With Traffic: Step-by-Step Instructions To Exiting a Highway

Updated Aug. 5, 2019

When exiting a highway, drivers must move through multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic, make speed adjustments and be ready to abide by new road signs, pavement markings and traffic control devices. Just like entering a highway, exiting one presents a significant risk. Highway exits consist of a deceleration ramp and an exit ramp – much like an entry point, yet in reverse. Reading through the information in this module will help you prepare for and exit and leave the highway safely.

Step-by-step instructions

Use the steps laid out here to leave the highway safely, when your exit is approaching:

  1. 1

    Identify which lane runs adjacent to the deceleration lane andmerge into that lane, well before the exit.

  2. 2

    Activate your turn signal to let other drivers know you intend to merge. It is a legal requirement to do this at least 100 feet before the turn in most states. Usehand signalsif your indicator is not visible or is malfunctioning.

  3. 3

    Merge into the deceleration lane. You must not decrease speed before entering this lane. Make sure you are not straddling the dividing line.

  4. 4

    Decrease your speed gradually once you have entered the deceleration lane. Keep a lookout for road signs which indicate asafe speedto use on the exit ramp.

  5. 5

    Be prepared to abide by road signs and traffic signals once you have left the highway. Keep within theposted speed limit.

Preparing to exit a highway

The biggest and most dangerous mistake you can make when leaving an expressway, is not preparing for your exit in advance. Guide signs indicating your exit will be posted at intervals at least a mile prior to the turn off, so there is no excuse for making a last-minute maneuver. If you are traveling on an unfamiliar route, be sure to plan your journey and check distances ahead of time, to make sure your exit does not take you by surprise.

When the first guide sign appears, you should have about one mile left until your exit. At this point, check the traffic around your vehicle and begin merging toward the exit lane, one lane at a time. Never cross multiple lanes in one maneuver, even if you realize you are about to miss your exit. If you miss the opportunity to merge into the exit lane safely, leaving the highway will have to wait until the next exit. It is always better to be late than to end up involved in a serious collision.

Highway exit signs

Freeway guide signs often provide a lot of useful information about your exit, including its name and number, the distance remaining until the exit, whether the exit is located on the left or right side of the highway and how many exit lanes will be available. Exit signs are usually placed on the same side of the road as the exit they are marking.

Yellow “EXIT ONLY” signs will often be placed above highway lanes as an exit draws nearer. Occupy this lane ONLY if you intend to leave the highway, as it feeds directly into the exit ramp. Motorists who intend to remain on the highway must merge out of the “EXIT ONLY” lane at the earliest safe opportunity.

Using deceleration lanes

Exit lanes become deceleration lanes as they break away from the highway. As their name suggests, deceleration lanes should be used to reduce speed in preparation for merging with slower-moving traffic. The length of the deceleration lane will determine how rapidly your must reduce your speed. You will likely encounter yellow and black speed limit signs on the deceleration lane, indicating how fast you should be traveling. Keep in mind that a different speed may be posted on the exit ramp itself.

The exit may have several deceleration lanes to prevent congestion. If this is the case, drivers should aim to occupy the right-hand lane to make way for other traffic attempting to exit. Yield for other motorists who are seeking to merge right from the left-hand deceleration lane.

Check your mirrors and glance over your shoulder when entering the deceleration lane, as it is likely there will be multiple vehicles leaving the highway at the same exit. Watch out for potential conflicts with other drivers, signal your lane change and maneuver smoothly as you enter the deceleration lane.

Using exit ramps

An exit ramp will join the deceleration lane to the road beyond the highway. The exit ramp may be straight or curved, moving uphill or downhill. As the shape or gradient of the exit ramp may obscure your view of the roadway, proceed with caution and be prepared to adjust your behavior for road signs and traffic signals. You may be required to yield or come to a complete stop at the end of the ramp.

Right-of-way

Right-of-way is not something you will often need to consider when exiting a highway, as the entry and exit ramps are generally separate. When entering or exiting a highway through a weave area, you must know when to yield right-of-way to other drivers. Such areas are clearly marked with a “WEAVE AREA” road sign, to let motorists know when giving way will be necessary.

The law states that vehicles leaving the highway have right-of-way over vehicles entering the highway. Keep in mind that having the right-of-way in this situation does not necessarily mean you should never yield. If it would be safer to yield to a driver entering the highway, this is the action you should take.

Common mistakes

Here are some of the mistakes most commonly made by inexperienced drivers while exiting a highway. Keep them in mind and do your best to avoid them!

  1. 1

    Reducing speed before entering the deceleration lane.Slowing down while still on the main highway could cause another, faster-moving driver to hit your vehicle from behind.

  2. 2

    Entering the deceleration lane too late.Drivers exiting the highway should move into the deceleration lane at the earliest, safe opportunity. Enter too late and you may not have enough time to slow down. If you miss your chance to leave, you must wait until the next exit.

  3. 3

    Trying to re-enter the highway from the deceleration lane.Careless drivers sometimes attempt to re-join the highway from the deceleration lane, having realized they are taking the wrong exit. This is extremely dangerous as other motorists will not be expecting you to merge from this lane and may not have time to react to avoid a collision. If you realize you have taken the wrong exit once you have begun to merge into the deceleration lane, you must exit the highway and re-enter using the proper entrance ramp.

Possible risks

Some situations can increase the risk involved in exiting a highway. Look out for these potential problems:

  1. 1

    If a weave lane is present at the exit, motorists will be seeking to enter and exit the highway at the same time. Exiting the highway gives you right-of-way in this situation but be prepared to yield if exercising your right-of-way may cause a collision.

  2. 2

    Exit ramps at some intersections are sharply curved. They may be posted with a speed limit as low as 5 mph. Be prepared to reduce your speed significantly on curved exit ramps, as you may otherwise lose control of your vehicle.

  3. 3

    Be prepared for slow-moving or stopped traffic on the exit ramp. There may be a “STOP” or “YIELD” sign at the end of the ramp holding people up.

Always pay close attention to the actions of other motorists entering the exit ramp, as they may move too quickly, stop suddenly or attempt to merge without checking the traffic around them. You must avoid sudden maneuvers and abrupt stops when exiting the highway, as other drivers may not anticipate your action and have time to react.

Once you have left the highway and entered the deceleration lane you MUST proceed through the interchange, even if you realize that exiting the highway at this point was a mistake. Attempting to swerve out of the deceleration lane or turn around would likely cause a collision and is against the law. Continue along the exit ramp and re-enter the highway at the next available entry point.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!

TAKE A FREE TEST

Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 3 votes.

Read next

Highway Construction Zones
Driving on Highways 10 of 10

Highway Construction Zones

Highway construction zones present additional risks to drivers and the construction workers themselves. You may encounter signs, signal devices, cones and traffic control personnel, all in place to warn motorists and guide them around the work zone safely. Slow down is the number one rule. Keep an eye out for speed limit signs and workers occupying the road.

Highway Driving Safety
Highway Driving Safety 1 of 4

Highway Driving Safety

There are additional rules, safety tips and considerations which all drivers must keep in mind when using limited access highways. A great deal can be done to minimize the risk of being involved in a highway accident – though we cannot eliminate that risk altogether. This vital conclusion to our highway driving section reiterates the safe highway driving practices you must adhere to, discusses the importance of planning for your trip and teaches you how to handle an emergency on the highway.

Preparing for The Trip on A Highway
Highway Driving Safety 2 of 4

Preparing for The Trip

If your journey involves using unfamiliar limited access highways, planning your route ahead of time is essential. Mapping out your trip in advance will minimize stress and ensure you do not miss vital exits on the freeway.

Review
Driving on Highways 3 of 10

Highway Driving Approaches

Despite occurring far less frequently, collisions on highways are usually more severe than collisions on other roads. When high speeds are involved, the chances of a collision resulting in fatalities are much greater. Making a mistake on a highway could cost you your life.

Driving on Highways 4 of 10

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.

Driving on Highways 5 of 10

Entering a Highway

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. The secrets to safe and successful freeway entry are being vigilant, signaling and matching the speed of existing traffic.

Driving on Highways 6 of 10

Choosing A Lane on A Highway

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.

Driving on Highways 7 of 10

Highway Driving Maneuvers

Making any maneuver on a highway will put you at risk, as the high density of traffic and high speeds involved leave little room for error and a small window of time in which to act in response to a threat. The key to maneuvering safely on an expressway is maintaining enough space around your vehicle, keeping up with the flow of traffic and scanning ahead for potential dangers.

Driving on Highways 8 of 10

Special Highway Areas

While using highways, you may encounter areas which require different driving behaviors, or where a different set of rules apply. Understanding how areas like HOV lanes and toll booths must be used will help you to stay out of danger and avoid getting a ticket.