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How to Drive on a Highway and Be a Confident Driver

driving a car on a highway

Learning How to Drive on the Highway
Be A Better Driver: Learn To Look Far Ahead
Blind Spots: How to Identify and Deal With Them
Keep Track Of Vehicles Around You
How to Pass on the Left
How to Merge onto a Highway
How To Exit From A Highway
Using Cruise Control
How To Approach Toll Booths

Learning How to Drive on the Highway


Nothing scares new or nervous drivers more than driving on a busy highway. The though of merging into fast moving traffic, dealing with huge tractor trailers, fear of missing the exit or changing lanes at 65 miles per hour can scare even the hardiest of drivers. Some of these fears are well founded, but can be overcome with patience, common sense and repeated practice. Armed with a few basic skills that we'll outline below and understanding the highway environment will go a long way in overcoming your fear of highway driving.

Here's a dirty little secret; highway driving is actually easier and safer in many respects than urban or bucolic country road driving. You may be saying to yourself how that can be. In reality many drivers find it easier driving on highways than on congested urban areas with frequent stop and go traffic or narrow rural roads with numerous blind turns and other hazards. Highway driving can be more disciplined and has fewer obstacles or variables such as pedestrians, traffic lights, cars running stop signs through an intersection... There are a number of unique hazards to highway driving and we'll go through them. Read on for some tips on how to drive safely on freeways.

Be A Better Driver: Learn To Look Far Ahead


We've all seen the mark of an inexperienced driver who will jump into a lane even though it's about to end only to have to go back to their original lane. They are oblivious to the lane markings and signs clearly showing that the lane will end. Why did that happen? Because they weren't paying attention and looking further ahead. They are focusing on one car length ahead only and that is dangerous.

One of the first things to start doing from day one is to look far ahead as one drives. Many new drivers tend to focus only a few feet in front of them and this is what can get you into trouble. Look further ahead and one will be able to read the road and traffic better. You'll gain a wider perspective and be surprised at what you will start to notice. For example: a truck entering your lane from the right, a slower moving vehicle, a car broken down in the shoulder or your lane about to end. Since you are now looking further ahead you'll have more time to react by checking traffic on your left and smoothly and safely change lanes. Not only is this safer, but you'll maintain your speed without slamming on your brakes.

Blind Spots: How to Identify and Deal With Them


It's a fact that all cars have blind spots. Blind spots are areas around or behind your car where you may not see a person or car. The larger the car the larger the potential blind spot can be. It is crucial to get to know your car's blind spots before you ever drive so that you can compensate for them. The easiest way to find them is to sit in a parked car and have a friend slowly walk around the car as you try to keep track of them visually through the windows and mirrors. You'll be shocked to discover that they will seemingly disappear in at least two spots. Those are your blind spots!

So you may ask, how do I compensate for blind spots? The best way of doing that is to ALWAYS do a quick "head check" in ADDITION to checking your mirrors before changing lanes or merging. A head check is simply taking a very quick glance over your shoulder and requires a little practice as you don't want to glance longer than necessary. Don't worry as it's simple to master. Just avoid staring when doing a head check. It should be a very fast turn of the head that lasts only about a second at most. Don't stare, just quickly glance.

A great practice exercise that my driving instructor showed me was to sit in a parked car and have a friend stand outside the passenger window holding up their outstretched hand varying how many fingers they have showing. Each time you glance at your friend your mission is to quickly tell how many fingers they are showing only by glancing for a second—not any longer. You'll get the knack of it very, very quickly.

Another good option is to buy a panoramic mirror that clips on to your existing rearview mirror giving you a wider angle view around the car. It doesn't replace a head check, but should lessen those blind spots.

Keep Track Of Vehicles Around You


ALWAYS keep tabs of the cars around you and even behind you. Make it a point to glance at each mirror every few seconds. Make notes of vehicles around you. If you noticed a pickup truck in your rearview mirror and now he is gone then he may very well be on your side in the blind spot. Always, always, always keep your eyes moving and check ALL your mirrors every few seconds.

How to Pass on the Left


Remember this simple rule: Drive on the right and pass on the left. This is such a simple concept yet some drivers just don't get it. Passing on the left must be done quickly and safely. When passing on the left one does not linger. Please note that it's unlawful in most states to pass on the right. Unless it's an emergency you should always pass on the left where it is expected.

Let's take a look at the correct way of passing on the left:
You are on the right lane and are approaching a slower car. Since you are following our first rule of always looking far ahead you should have spotted this in advance and can check your mirrors and perform a quick head check for vehicles on your left. As you look at the mirrors you are also trying to gauge how fast those cars are coming up on you. Once you have a safe gap in the traffic you will use your left turn signal, check one last time to make sure all is clear, change lanes and then accelerate enough to quickly pass the car on the right. Don't linger beside the other car—pass them. So how do you know when it's safe to get back over to the right lane? Once you are able to see BOTH headlights of the slower car in your rearview mirror, you will use your right turn signal and pull back in front of them and resume your normal speed.

How to Merge onto a Highway


Entering a freeway from a merge is probably one of the scariest parts of highway driving yet straight forward once you understand the key is to merge by going at the speed of traffic. Most roadways have long acceleration lanes that give you an opportunity to pick up speed and check your mirrors for an opening.

How To Exit From A Highway


Plan ahead of time what exit you'll need to get off at. Get over to the proper lane well in advance of the exit especially if the exit is on your left. If you know that you need to exit at Exit #7 then start counting exits ahead of time so you can anticipate your exit. Do keep in mind that this is not foolproof as there may be exits labeled as 7A, 7B... that you will need to take into account. Most interstate highways have exits that correspond to the mile posts so you may notice that exit 2 is followed by exit 5.

If you miss your exit simply continue driving and turn around at the next exit. NEVER STOP IN A LANE OR ATTEMPT TO BACK UP TO GET ONTO AN EXIT! If you are a new or nervous driver you must accept the fact that you may miss an exit, the entrance to a gas station or a street. Remain patient and don't worry if you have to travel a little further or pay an extra toll because you missed your turn or exit.

Using Cruise Control


Maintaining a steady and safe speed is important on highways. It is very easy not to notice that you are doing 70 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone. Using your car's cruise control function is not only convenient, but it can help save gas and prevent you from getting a speeding ticket, which can cost you points and increased insurance costs. Most cars will automatically maintain their cruise control speed even when going uphill, which is great because you may not have to keep close tabs on pushing the accelerator down further and watching the speedometer at the same time.

I always use my cruise control to set my base speed and then accelerate manually if I need to pass knowing that when I let off the gas my car will go back to the preset speed. Priceless convenience, which also helps with safety. Just make sure to use cruise control when there isn't much traffic. If you find you are getting too close to a car in front or encounter traffic, either change lanes or simply click on the crusie control stalk or tap on the brakes to disengage it.

How To Approach Toll Booths



Approaching or deciding on which lane to use at a toll booth plaza can be made easier with a little planning. Firstly, get one of those EZ Pass monthly subscriptions / electronic devices that allow you to drive through without having to take your eyes off the road and fumble for cash. (Some states have different names for them so check first) EZ Pass lanes are usually well marked so they are easier to spot on the approach. In New Jersey they use bright purple signs and in Maryland they use a checkered flag on a yellow background to denote EZ Pass lanes and on some toll roadways you can use any lane/booth-even a manned booth if you have EZ Pass.

If you don't have one of the passes then always try to have your money / tokens prepared ahead of time or have a passenger do it. Learn to identify which lanes accept cash, exact change... so that you can easily maneuverer to that booth/lane. Although not foolproof, I find that lanes that have cars piled up and sitting for more than a few seconds usually indicates that it is a cash lane.

Many toll plazas will have a major exit or fork in the roadway immediately afterwards so choose your intended lane/exit early. When exiting the toll plaza watch BOTH sides AND in front of you as cars start funneling back into the narrowing roadway. Merge with care and be prepared to take the proper exit or fork in the road immediately after the toll plaza.

Hope the above highway driving tips helps and if you have other driver rehabilitation tips please share them by using the comment form below.


 

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