Driving on Highways
Driving Maneuvers on Highways

Making Highway Driving Maneuvers Like a Pro: Changing Lanes & Passing

Updated Dec. 11, 2020

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.

Keeping up with the flow of traffic

Keeping pace with the flow of traffic on a freeway is essential. Traveling too slowly or too quickly could force other motorists to brake, accelerate or move to another lane to get out of your way. Every action taken increases the chance that somebody will make a wrong move and a collision will occur.

Maintaining space around the vehicle

While keeping up with the flow of traffic, drivers must endeavor to leave as much space around their vehicle as possible. Leave at least a four-second gap between your vehicle and the motorist ahead of you, so that you will have time to slow down safely if they suddenly reduce their speed.

The gap immediately in front of your vehicle is not the only space you should consider when driving on a highway. Ideally, you should seek to adjust your speed and course to maintain space to the sides and rear of your vehicle. You may need this room to escape a dangerous situation if a nearby driver makes a mistake. As you cannot increase the space behind your vehicle without accelerating, it is better to move over to a slower lane if somebody is following you too closely.

Do not respond to tailgating by speeding up. If your vehicle cannot safely travel at highway speeds, you should not be using the highway.

Changing lanes on a highway

When you have chosen a space on the highway, in a lane that is appropriate to your speed, you should seek to remain in that position unless it ceases to be safe. Unnecessary maneuvers increase risk and should be avoided.

As highways do not have intersections, any maneuvers you execute will involve changing lanes or altering your position within a lane. This will likely become necessary when:

  1. Entering the highway from the acceleration lane.
  2. Exiting the highway via the deceleration lane.
  3. Making room for another motorist to enter your lane.
  4. Avoiding large or slow-moving vehicles.
  5. Passing another vehicle.
  6. Avoiding a hazard or obstruction on the roadway ahead.

Great care and consideration must be given to changing lanes on a highway - even if you are totally comfortable with this maneuver on other roads. The severity of a collision almost always increases in line with the speed at which the vehicles involved are traveling. On a slow-moving city street, making a mistake might result in a fender-bender and a bad day. On highways, collisions are often fatal.

Always check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, and signal before changing lanes. At high speed, drivers approaching from behind can close the gap between you must faster than you think.

Scanning ahead

Highway drivers must get used to scanning the road roughly a quarter of a mile ahead. This seems like an excessive distance on paper but at highway speeds, it amounts to 10 to 15 seconds in front of your position. Scanning ahead is crucial as it will let you avoid potential dangers well before you reach them, rather than making dangerous, last-minute maneuvers.

Scanning ahead does not mean staring blindly ahead. It is important to continually shift the line of your gaze across various planes in front of your vehicle. You will need as much time as possible to spot and respond to potential dangers. Staring along a single path directly in front of your vehicle can cause “highway hypnosis” – a state in which drivers are dangerously unaware of their surroundings and actions.

Passing on a highway

Passing other vehicles on a highway should be avoided wherever possible. If you do choose to overtake, it is essential to understand just how much space you will need to complete the maneuver safely.

A vehicle traveling at 60 mph will cover nearly 900ft in ten seconds. To pass another vehicle traveling at this speed you will need double the space, which equates to more than one-third of a mile. Judging the speed of another vehicle is difficult – let alone at this distance. We strongly recommend that you do not attempt to pass if another motorist is near enough that you can see the gap between you closing.

Passing on a highway is dangerous and should be avoided when:

  • A line of slow-moving vehicles is ahead of you.
  • Traffic is generally heavy and there are vehicles nearby, occupying every lane.
  • You cannot clearly see how much space is ahead.
  • You are approaching a place where the road narrows, such as a tunnel or bridge.
  • You are in a no-passing zone.

Motorists may choose to pass another vehicle on either the left or the right when using a highway. However, passing on the left is always the safer option. Drivers in the lane to your right are likely to be traveling slower than you are, which would make accelerating in the right-hand lane to pass a vehicle in your own lane extremely risky.

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