The Rules of Defensive Driving:
When Approaching Intersections, Special Lanes and Ramps
Drivers who are courteous and continuously apply their understanding of traffic laws relating to intersections have the best likelihood of ensuring their continued safety in these dangerous driving environments. Controlled intersections are crossing roads of two or more roadways that are controlled by a traffic control device, such as a stop light, stop sign, or a yield sign for the purpose of controlling the flow of traffic. Hazards to be aware of at intersections include cross traffic, pedestrians, rear end crashes, and other crashes caused by drivers’ blind spots.
Intersections that are not controlled by traffic control devices are known as unmarked intersections. Adequate traffic gaps at uncontrolled intersections are secured primarily by drivers’ adherence to right of way laws without the aid of traffic control devices. Regardless of whether the intersection is controlled or uncontrolled, there are basic rules for approaching any intersection:
- LOOK BOTH WAYS PRIOR TO PROCEEDING – Look left first because cars approaching from your left are closer to you and are an Immediatee hazard to your continued safe travel.
- DON’T DEPEND ON TRAFFIC SIGNALS – Remember, traffic signals serve only as “notices” to drivers of their required performance and compliance with traffic laws. A red light, in and of itself, never stopped a motor vehicle. Impaired or reckless drivers may disobey signals, which, in the case of running a red light, might result in a driver – who entered an intersection on the first display of a green light without looking – being involved in a traffic crash.
- DON’T PRESUME COMPLIANCE WITH TRAFFIC SIGNALS – Ensure that the intersection is clear prior to entering. Never “jump on” light changes when approaching a traffic signal.
- OBTAIN A GOOD VIEW OF INTERSECTING TRAFFIC – Traffic that is difficult to see, e.g., motorcycles and pedestrian traffic, requires a good view of oncoming lanes to ensure that the intersection is clear before entering when authorized.
Being able to judge distance, speed, and time is the key to proceeding through an intersection safely. Drivers must be able to determine how much time it will take them to proceed through the intersection at their current speed of travel. Do they have the time at that speed to safely travel the required distance before a cross-traffic situation occurs? You must be prepared to stop within the last 100 feet prior to an intersection. If you happen to pass these marks, do not back your vehicle up, as pedestrians may be walking behind your vehicle.
Bicycle lanes are for bicycles Pretty obvious. Motor vehicles may not be in a bicycle lane unless they are entering or leaving the highway, preparing to turn, or parking where parking is permitted but not in the bicycle lane. Bicycles must stay in the bicycle lane and, similarly, motor vehicles must stay in lanes designed for their use. Vehicles should keep clear of and merge through bicycle lanes with extreme caution.
What is a passing lane?
Passing lanes are for passing. There is no secret or trick to driving, the driver just needs to be paying attention. Motor vehicle operators should use a passing lane when the attempted maneuver is perceived as safe and prudent and can be completed without the use of excessive speed. The maneuver must also be completed within a reasonable amount of time, and the driver must have adequate visibility of all roadways and vehicles he or she may affect or be affected by.
What are on-ramps and merging lanes?
Drivers should be advised that highway on-ramps are for entrance to and preparation for highway driving. When entering highways, drivers must no longer travel at the drastically reduced speeds necessary for city driving. Drivers are called upon to increase speeds to that of the highway traffic and use the on-ramp and subsequent merging lanes as a means to flow smoothly into highway traffic.
Drivers must signal, increase speed, and merge safely into the flow of traffic.
Merge lanes, of course, are used for “merging” – they are typically short by nature and will end at some point in time. Lane closures also end at some point in time. Closed lanes on a highway require special attention and driver courtesy. Some drivers will wait until the last possible moment and attempt to squeeze into traffic before the lane closes. Other drivers need to be aware that these drivers are a definite hazard to the flow of traffic. Attempts to block such inconsiderate drivers may lead to other more serious consequences, such as driver confrontations or multiple car crashes.
All drivers have a responsibility to adjust their speed in order to allow gaps for merging traffic. If drivers properly space their following distance, these adjustments will be minor and highly effectual to the smooth flow of traffic. If you are traveling in the right lane and you approach a freeway onramp, you should be aware that other traffic may try to merge either in front of you or behind you. If you can, it is best to move out of the right lane to allow these vehicles easier entrance.
Many freeways and highways now have timed entrance lights that safely monitor and control entrance into the existing flow of traffic in an attempt to alleviate “bottlenecking.” These traffic meters make drivers stop and wait a few seconds before attempting to enter the flow of traffic. This allows the vehicle ahead of them (who has already followed the same procedure) enough time to enter the highway leaving the following driver a clear path in which to merge.
High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are identified by a painted diamond in the lane. These lanes are reserved for carpools or multiple passenger (two or more occupancy) vehicles, such as buses. Regulatory signs indicate hours of operation and occupancy requirements. Any driver illegally using these lanes is subject to lawful penalty.
What are off-ramps?
Drivers should realize that off-ramps are designed for reducing speeds and are links to and roadways for the entrance back into city driving. The driver is called on to signal, reduce speed in a casual, deliberate manner and prepare to stop at the bottom of the off-ramp if necessary. Increasing speed should never happen on an off-ramp, is illegal and is the opposite of what is desired. Exiting a highway requires reduced speed, extra caution, and total road awareness by the operator of the motor vehicle.
Deceleration lanes are provided next to the right lane of travel prior to exits. The best method to exit a freeway is to begin slowing down only after entering the exit deceleration lane. (Deceleration lanes are expressway lanes used to slow your vehicle without blocking vehicles behind you.) Right hand lanes are typically used for vehicles traveling at a slower speed; however, speed should never be slower than the posted minimum.
Left hand lanes are intended for vehicle passing and for through traffic. If you are traveling in the far left lane and are being “pushed” by a driver behind you who feels you are going too slow, don’t insist upon remaining in the lane just because you are going the speed limit. Avoid conflict and change lanes to the right when safe to do so.
Some on-ramps and off-ramps share mutual lanes for a short time. Vehicle operators should leave extra room between each other to allow appropriate yielding techniques to other drivers. Since these lanes share acceleration/deceleration space, some drivers are speeding up to enter the highway and others are slowing down to exit the same highway. Driver communication and cooperation is imperative in these situations.
Pay special attention to the posted limit displayed on freeway exit signs. This limit is for ideal conditions. Heavy trucks and vehicles traveling in inclement weather may choose to exit at a speed slower than the posted limit. One reason for posting specific speed limits for exit ramps is the frequent use of curved ramps that require the vehicle to decelerate to the posted ramp speed, from freeway speeds, in the deceleration lane or immediately upon exiting the freeway in order to achieve the lower speeds necessary to safely complete the exit.
If you inadvertently miss the exit you planned on taking, you must proceed to the next exit. Never cross over lanes at the last minute, or brake sharply to avoid missing an exit. Making either of these unsafe maneuvers may lead to a rear end crash. Backing your vehicle on the shoulder or in a traffic lane to return to a missed exit is not only unlawful, but is also extremely hazardous and, perhaps, fatal.
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This article was written by SafeMotorist.com defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.