Driving in Heavy Traffic
Dealing with Heavy Traffic At Intersections

Driving Through Intersections With Heavy Traffic: Safe Driving Tactics

Updated May 4, 2019

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.

Intersections are designed to keep traffic moving in an orderly fashion where two or more roads intersect. For the most part, they function exactly as intended. Unfortunately, this depends on drivers who are using the intersection paying attention and obeying all traffic signs, signals and road laws. If even a single motorist disregards the rules at an intersection, the safe and orderly movement of traffic can quickly descend into chaos.

Avoiding collisions at intersections

While you cannot control the actions of other drivers, you can take steps yourself to minimize the risk of being involved in an intersection collision. Follow these safety rules:

  1. 1

    Alwayssignal your intention to turnor merge into a new lane, so that you do not take other drivers by surprise.

  2. 2

    Obey all traffic signs, signals and pavement markings.

  3. 3

    Know yourright-of-way laws– and follow them! Be prepared to yield even if you have right-of-way, if claiming right-of-way would put you at risk.

  4. 4

    Use the SEE (Search, Evaluate, Execute) space management system to avoid hazards, achieve the best line of sight and plan your path through the intersection. Search ahead and around your vehicle, evaluate potential risks and execute changes in speed and position as necessary.

  5. 5

    NEVER change lanes or attempt to pass another vehicle during an intersection.

Approaching an intersection

Your first task when approaching an intersection will be to ascertain whether it is controlled by signal lights. If the intersection is uncontrolled, it will be harder to anticipate the behavior of other motorists and pedestrians. Next, scan the intersection and consider all traffic control devices, signals and road markings. These may include:

  • Stop and/or yield signs
  • Solid or flashing signal lights
  • Road signs referring to U-turns, right turns and left-turns
  • Directional arrows controlling traffic

Uncontrolled intersections

You must be ready to stop or yield to cross traffic if the intersection is not controlled by lights. Then, consider how well you can see traffic which may be about to move through the intersection from other directions. If you cannot clearly see 100 feet in all directions, you should cut back your speed to around 15 mph. This will make it easier to stop if another vehicle suddenly enters the intersection from another direction.

Proceed with extreme caution when approaching an uncontrolled intersection where your view is impeded by parked vehicles, trees, buildings or other obstacles. Do not enter the intersection until you are certain it is safe, or if your view is limited, start moving through the intersection at a crawl and be prepared to stop if the way is not clear.

Signal lights

Intersections controlled by signal lights are far easier to manage. Drivers must not enter the intersection until the light is green and all other traffic has finished moving through. You may enter on a yellow light ONLY if it is safer than stopping. Some intersections permit right or left turns on a red light – this would be indicated by road signs.

Stopping at an intersection

Less experienced drivers often wonder where they should stop at an intersection if a painted stop line is not present. These basic rules govern stopping at intersections:

  • Stop prior to the stop line, if there is one. You should aim to stop three to six inches away from the line. Do not allow any part of your vehicle to cross it.
  • If there is a painted crosswalk, stop before the first crosswalk line.
  • Where no painted crosswalk or stop line are present, imagine a line connecting the corners of both curbs to the left and the right. Stop just before this imaginary line.

Right-of-way rules at intersections

Always remember that having lawful right-of-way will not protect you if another driver attempts to force their way through an intersection or does not realize they should yield. If another driver does not yield when they should, you must yield yourself and allow them to proceed – no matter how frustrated you may feel.  Reprimanding another motorist by shouting, gesturing or sounding your horn will only distract every driver around you and worsen an already risky situation.

It may be that you enter an intersection when another driver has right-of-way – mistakes happen! In this situation, it is important that you continue moving through the intersection even though you have realized you are in the wrong. Other motorists will not anticipate you stopping part way through an intersection and you may be rear-ended if you brake too suddenly.

Driving through intersections

To drive through an intersection without getting into conflict with another motorist, you must wait for an appropriate gap in the traffic and travel at a steady pace. Take note of how fast other vehicles are moving when assessing whether you have room to enter the intersection.

Attempting to overtake another driver part-way through an intersection is dangerous and illegal in most cases. Any maneuver which other drivers will not be able to anticipate will catch them off guard, and a collision will likely result.

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