When the United States Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, it transformed the way Americans traveled. Upon its completion, these new freeways allowed us to drive cross country for the first time, covering hundreds of miles between stops.
But over time, the same elements that make highway driving so convenient – namely high speed limits and the elimination of intersections – have also resulted in some bad habits.
At best, these highway driving mistakes are an annoyance to other drivers. And at their worst, they can put others in danger, leading to accidents and serious injuries.
Below is our list of the 16 biggest mistakes people make when highway driving.
- Driving slow in the left lane. While laws differ slightly from state to state, the left lane of a multi-lane highway is generally reserved for faster traveling vehicles. That means unless you’re passing or traveling faster than the flow of traffic, you should keep your car to the right. Driving slowly in the left lane can cause traffic buildup and may even encourage drivers to take more dangerous maneuvers to overtake you (like passing in the right lane or shoulder).
- Driving when tired. This may seem obvious, but we drive at our best when we’re awake and alert. When you’re tired, your driving suffers. In fact, studies have shown that being awake for more than 18 hours can make you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (close to the legal limit)! Not only does driving when tired slow your reaction time, but you may also fall asleep behind the wheel – which causes thousands of crashes each year. So if you’re feeling tired, stop for a cup of coffee or pull over for a quick nap. (See also: Drowsy Driving: Is It Really So Bad?)
- Not taking breaks on long trips. You don’t need to be short on sleep for fatigue to set in. This is especially true on long road trips, when driving for hours on end can make you feel tired and less alert. So don’t let a desire to reach your destination quickly put others at risk. Stop and take a short break every few hours. This will give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and can help you stay more alert behind the wheel.
- Staying in a truck’s blind spot. Commercial trucks are big vehicles. Because of their size, they have big blind spots, too. That’s a term for the area a driver can’t see by looking through their window or mirror. If you’re travelling in a truck’s blind spot, the driver may not realize you’re there – which could cause them to accidentally hit you. To avoid driving in a truck’s blind spot, follow this rule of thumb: If you can’t see the driver in his side mirror, he can’t see you either.
- Speeding. On most highways in the U.S., a speed limit will be set somewhere between 55 and 80 miles per hour. Driving in excess of the posted limit may not only earn you a speeding ticket – it could jeopardize the safety of yourself and other drivers. Our 2021 survey revealed the top 5 reasons why drivers admit to speeding.
- Relying only on safety systems (and not your eyes and ears). High-tech vehicle safety systems get more and more advanced with each new model year. Adaptive cruise control. Automatic emergency braking. Lane keeping assist. Blind spot monitoring. The list goes on… Each of these systems is designed to prevent accidents and keep drivers safe. And for the most part, they do an amazing job. But this can result in drivers relying too much on their cars to do the driving, braking and accelerating for them. Remember, these systems aren’t always perfect, and they aren’t designed to reduce your responsibility behind the wheel.
- Not using your turn signals. When changing lanes on the highway, the law requires you to always use your turn signal. But it’s not uncommon to see vehicles zipping from lane to lane without signaling. Using your turn signals helps prevent accidents by letting other drivers know – and plan for – your movements.
- Keeping your brights on. On dark, remote highways, visibility becomes especially important. Turning on your high beam headlights will allow you to see further down the road, adding upwards of 300 feet to your visibility. Not only does this aid in navigating the road ahead, but it can help you avoid hitting an animal, like a deer. However, keeping your high beams on with other drivers on the road can become a blinding safety hazard. Don’t let your headlights put others at risk. Only use your brights when other vehicles are at least 500 feet away. Learn more in our related article: The Driver’s Guide to Headlights.
- Not yielding to oncoming traffic. While highway driving eliminates stoplights and intersections, you’ll still need to deal with vehicles merging on and off the road. When a car is approaching from an on-ramp, try to be aware of oncoming traffic and give them room to merge into your lane. In most states, the vehicle on the highway has the right of way. But adjusting your speed (or better yet, moving over to another lane) to allow another vehicle to merge safely can reduce the chance of an accident.
- Not using your mirrors. When switching lanes on the highway, you should always check your mirrors and blind spots before making a move. Be on the lookout for nearby vehicles, including those that may be quickly approaching on either side. Fail to do so, and you could find yourself turning into the path of another vehicle.
- Tailgating. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions make up nearly 30 percent of all accidents. And tailgating, or following another vehicle too closely, is a major cause. Tailgating is especially dangerous on the highway because you travel such a great distance at higher speeds. That’s why experts recommend following the “three-second rule” – allowing a three second gap to pass an object after the car ahead of you does.
- Road rage. When dealing with bad or inconsiderate drivers, it can be easy to let your anger get the best of you. But when road rage takes over, it can lead to an even more dangerous situation fueled by rash, aggressive behavior. So take a step back and relax. Put things into perspective. And if you encounter another driver exhibiting road rage, do your best to avoid or de-escalate any confrontation.
- Poor passing etiquette. Have you ever tried to pass someone on the highway, only to have them accelerate and match your speed? This is an example of poor passing etiquette. When you’re passing another vehicle (or are being overtaken), make sure both cars have plenty of room to safely execute the pass.
- Inconsistent speed. The best way to drive on the highway is to keep your vehicle at a safe, consistent speed. Using your car’s cruise control is a great way to accomplish this. Constantly speeding up and slowing down is not only an annoyance to other drivers, it can also impede the flow of traffic.
- Hard braking. Smashing the brake pedal is an accident waiting to happen – especially at highway speeds. To avoid hard braking, always maintain a safe distance behind the car in front of you and keep your eyes on the road at all times
- Distracted driving. We’ve all seen drivers cruising along the highway with their eyes focused on a phone instead of the road. It’s a behavior that causes thousands of accidents (and more than 3,000 deaths) each year. Avoid the temptation to use your phone while driving. Your safety is always worth the wait.
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