Driving in Heavy Traffic
Dealing with Heavy Traffic At Intersections

Driving Through Intersections With Heavy Traffic: Safe Driving Tactics

Updated Dec. 11, 2020

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

    Always signal your intention to turn or 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 your right-of-way laws – and follow them!
    Be prepared to yield even if you have the 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 partway 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.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 4 votes.

Read next

Dealing with Heavy Traffic on Highways
Driving in Heavy Traffic 3 of 4

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.

Making Turns At Multi-Lane Intersections
Driving in Heavy Traffic 4 of 4

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.

Driving on Highways
Driving on Highways 1 of 10

Driving on Highways

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.

Driving on Rural Roads 2 of 3

Dangers on Rural Roads

Despite the slow pace of life, low traffic volume and quiet countryside which typify most rural communities in America, drivers are more likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a rural road than they are anywhere else. In 2016, the NHTSA recorded 37,461 traffic deaths overall. Of these fatalities, 18,590 (50 percent) occurred in rural areas.

Driving on Rural Roads 3 of 3

Approaches to Rural Driving

Staying safe on rural roads depends on remaining alert, giving yourself the best possible view of the road ahead and making sure you have enough time to stop or maneuver to avoid a collision. Do not take any chances if your feel yourself tiring on a rural road. Find the next safe place to pull over and consider taking a short nap before proceeding on your journey.

Driving on Curves & Hills 1 of 3

Curves and Hills

When driving through a stretch of road that is not flat, or straight, a motorist must contend with additional forces acting on their vehicle. Adjustments in speed and lane position must be made to counteract these forces and maintain control. Furthermore, line of sight may be impeded by the mid-point of a curve or the crest of a hill.

Driving on Curves & Hills 2 of 3

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.

Driving on Curves & Hills 3 of 3

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.

Driving in Heavy Traffic 1 of 4

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.