Highway Driving Safety
Important Highway Driving Practices

Highway Driving Safety: Important Driving Practices for High Speed

Updated Dec. 11, 2020

This section summarizes those must-know highway driving techniques and safety practices. Organized into an easy-to-follow checklist, this information can be printed off and revisited as often as needed; you may wish to read through it again before taking your car onto a freeway.  Highway hypnosis, velocitation and other prominent highway-driving threats are discussed here. We also cover defensive driving – the “prevention over cure” driving method that will help you avoid potentially dangerous situations before they occur.

Essential rules

These essential highway driving practices will help you to stay safe when using our country’s high-speed roads:

  1. 1

    Stay alert and focused on the task at hand.
    Keep scanning the roadway for hazards, checking multiple visual ranges and planes. Check on traffic behind you, using rear-view and side-view mirrors.

  2. 2

    Do not drive when tired.
    If you feel yourself becoming sleepy behind the wheel, exit the highway at the next opportunity and find a place to rest.

  3. 3

    Never drive in another motorist’s blind spot.
    They will not be able to see you in their mirrors and may attempt to change lanes, without realizing the danger.

  4. 4

    Always allow more space than you think you need when passing.

  5. 5

    Always signal your intention to change lanes.

  6. 6

    Flash your brake lights whenever traffic ahead of you is visibly slowing.

  7. 7

    Abide by all signs, signals and road markings.
    You may need to adjust your speed in line with changes to the limit or change your position if two traffic lanes are about to merge.

  8. 8

    Maintain a safe space around your vehicle.
    Highway drivers should aim for a five-second gap between themselves and the vehicle in front. If possible, change lanes into a slower lane when being tailgated. Do not speed up to maintain space behind your vehicle.

  9. 9

    Do not drive too slowly.
    This would create danger by forcing other drivers to brake or change lanes to avoid you.

  10. 10

    Reduce your speed to account for poor weather or roadway conditions.
    Posted speed limits are based on “ideal” conditions.

  11. 11

    Drive defensively.
    You must aim to identify and avoid dangerous situations before they occur. Do not rely on other drivers doing the right thing.

Highway hypnosis and velocitation

Highway hypnosis and velocitation are two incredibly dangerous altered mental states which can occur in monotonous driving environments. Highway hypnosis happens when a driver is lulled into a less-engaged state of mind by an uneventful and repetitive view (for instance, a long, straight stretch of highway) and “hypnotic” sounds (such as the low hum of an engine, wind rushing past the vehicle or tires on tarmac). When highway hypnosis sets in, a driver will operate their vehicle as if on “auto-pilot” and may not be alert enough to spot hazards or drive defensively. You can avoid highway hypnosis by:

  • Not driving when tired.
  • Taking regular breaks.
  • Keeping your eyes moving rather than staring at a fixed point on the road ahead.
  • Reading highway signs to stay focused.

Velocitation describes a phenomenon that occurs on open, high-speed roads, where drivers lose the ability to accurately gauge how fast they are traveling. If you have been traveling at the same speed on a highway for a significant time, velocitation could lead you to exceed a safe speed without realizing it. Checking your speedometer regularly is the best way to guard against velocitation.

Defensive driving

Defensive driving is the practice of thinking ahead and acting to avoid problems BEFORE they occur. Here are some potentially problematic situations you will need to watch out for when driving on a limited-access highway:

  1. 1

    Disabled vehicles on the road or shoulder.
    You should reduce your speed and merge into a different lane to allow the disabled vehicle more room, if possible.

  2. 2

    Traffic breaks, toll booths and immigration checkpoints. You may need to merge into a new lane and will certainly need to slow down and stop. Other drivers may fail to do these things and create a dangerous situation.

  3. 3

    Congestion on the road ahead.
    Flash your brake lights and reduce your speed as you approach slow-moving traffic.

  4. 4

    Emergency vehicles.
    You may need to pull over to let them pass.

  5. 5

    Highway work zones.
    Reduce your speed, merge into an appropriate lane if a detour or lane-closure is in place.

Keep in mind that defensive driving is a skill you should aim to develop every time you get behind the wheel – it is not exclusive to highways and other high-speed roads.

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Avoiding Highway Emergencies

Practicing defensive driving techniques can help you avoid accidents and emergencies on the highway. You may still encounter crashes irrespective of how careful you are, as you cannot rely on other drivers to make safe decisions all the time. The nature of expressway driving means that a single accident or collision can end up disrupting many different vehicles.

Driving in Work Zones
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Driving in Work Zones

The term “work zone” refers to any area on a public road where utility, construction or maintenance work is being conducted. There may be barriers, cones, heavy equipment, temporary signs, signal lights and workers in the roadway, prior to, during and beyond work sites. Nearly all states have chosen to discourage dangerous driving around high-risk work zones by increasing or doubling the fines incurred by traffic violations.

Work Zone Signs & Signals
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Work Zone Signs & Signals

Drivers moving through a roadway work zone will come across unexpected road signs, signals and traffic control measures. Traffic control personnel – often known as flaggers or flagmen – may be positioned around a work zone to manage the flow of traffic through the site. The increased risk around work zones means that obeying the signs, signals and traffic control devices established in these areas is every bit as important as obeying them elsewhere.

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.

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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.

Driving on Highways 9 of 10

Exiting a Highway

While exiting a highway is nowhere near as difficult or intimidating as entering one, there is still a lot that can go wrong. Learning how to exit a highway safely is a skill like any other you will learn in preparation for your driver’s exam. It will not require you to merge with traffic as you do when entering the highway, though it still deserves considerable attention.

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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.

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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.

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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.