Learning to safely drive on freeways is a critical part of learning to drive. Freeways have a far better accident record than any other type of road in America. But every year, we see crashes on the highway that could have been prevented.
By sticking to a few simple freeway rules, all drivers can ensure that they don’t contribute to behavior that could be termed road rage.
How do I start learning to drive on the freeway?
- Ensure that your car is well maintained, has sufficient fuel and oil, has correct tire pressures, and tires are in good condition (including the spare).
Observe the speed limit.
- Remember that concentration and frequent use of mirrors are doubly important on freeways because of higher traffic volumes.
- Take extra care when approaching intersections where traffic is joining the freeway.
- Obey freeway signals. These warn of dangers ahead, for example, an accident, broken down vehicle, poor weather conditions, flooding, slippery road surface etc.
- Be prepared to anticipate the unexpected actions of other drivers.
- Keep your distance. On a dry road and in good weather conditions, leave at least a two-second gap between your vehicle and the one in front.
- On wet, slippery roads or in poor visibility, leave at least a four-second gap. Switch on dipped headlights when visibility is reduced.
- Use your mirrors and observe lane discipline. Always use the left-hand lane where possible. Remember lanes two and three are not the ‘middle lane’ or ‘fast lane’; these overtake lanes should be used as such. Always indicate when changing lanes.
- Overtake or pass only on the right unless traffic moves in queues and the queue on your right moves more slowly than you are. Never move into a lane on your left to overtake, and never use the hard shoulder.
- Take special care when joining a freeway. You must give way to freeway traffic. Beware of the ‘blindspot’ factor.
- Take care in foggy conditions. Slow down. Use your lights. Keep a sensible distance. In terrible fog, open your window slightly and turn off the radio so that you can hear other vehicles.
- Take regular breaks at service areas, but never on the hard shoulder – if you feel sleepy, get off the freeway at the first opportunity.
- Take particular care at roadworks and when approaching them. Reduce your speed and obey warning signs which have been put up.
What should you do if you breakdown on a freeway?
- If you have a vehicle problem on a freeway, use left indicator or hazard signals and, when safe to do so, move to the hard shoulder. Try to locate the nearest emergency telephone box. These are usually one mile apart. Put your hazard warning lights on.
- Park well over on the hard shoulder. Lock all your doors apart from the passenger door and use the passenger door to exit your vehicle.
- If you need to walk to the telephone box, remember that the arrows on the marker posts point to the nearest one. You don’t need money to make the call, and you will automatically be put through to police control, who will take your details. Even if you have a mobile phone, you should use the freeway emergency phones to provide the operator with your exact location. If you feel unable to use the freeway phones and decide to use your mobile, you must give an accurate location, freeway number, (last or next) junction number. Again, the number of the nearest marker post will be a great help.
- When you have made your emergency call, if weather conditions permit, stand on the freeway embankment; the main danger is from passing traffic.
- If you are alone in your vehicle and an unidentified vehicle pulls up, immediately get into your car and lock the passenger door. It is illegal for anyone to stop on the freeway and offer assistance. Ask anyone that stops to offer assistance to contact the appropriate emergency service rather than assist personally.
- Keep a warm coat, blanket and walking shoes in your vehicle.
- When leaving the hard shoulder, always increase your speed to passing vehicles and wait for a long safe gap in the traffic.
How to stay safe while learning to drive?
Our easy-to-follow advice will help you learn to drive while keeping you safe.
Always lock your vehicle on entering, especially in slow-moving traffic. Keep handbags, briefcases, etc., out of sight to avoid them being snatched by opportunists. Traffic light robberies have increased in recent years.
When parking in a public place, do not leave valuables or personal belongings in view inside the vehicle. Place items in the trunk or inside locking glove boxes.
Ensure that your vehicle is always locked to pay for fuel, even when leaving the vehicle unattended.
Ensure that your vehicle is secured with approved security devices. ( you should seek advice on these from your Insurance company )
Have your car keys ready to get into the vehicle and check the interior before entering, including the back seats.
To avoid unnecessary breakdowns, make sure that your car is well maintained. Regular maintenance may highlight a problem developing in its early stages, thus preventing a breakdown situation. Check your vehicle has sufficient fuel and oil, has correct tire pressures and that your tires are in good condition.
If your vehicle has a problem on a freeway, try to drive as close to an emergency telephone box as possible. All emergency boxes will transfer your call to emergency services. Put your hazard lights on. Park well over on the hard shoulder. If traveling alone, lock all your doors apart from the passenger door and use the passenger door to exit your vehicle.
Keep a warm coat, blanket and walking shoes in the vehicle.
If you need to walk to the telephone box, remember that the arrows on the marker posts point to the nearest one. You don’t need money to make the call, and you will be put through to the police control, who will take your details before transferring your call. If you are alone, let the operator know.
When you have made your emergency call, stand or sit on the highway embankment if weather conditions permit. The main danger is from passing traffic. If you are alone in your vehicle and an unidentified vehicle pulls up, immediately get into your car and lock the passenger door.
It is illegal for anyone to stop on the highway to offer assistance. Ask anyone that stops to offer assistance to contact the appropriate emergency service rather than assist personally.
Never pick up hitchhikers.
Breakdowns at night
If your cell phone doesn’t have service, drive on to a well-lit area where there may be a telephone.
If you break down in a dark place, ensure your hazard lights are on.
A mobile phone is invaluable if you regularly travel at night. Make sure your phone is fully charged when you get in your car, especially if you are driving alone. When calling for help, make it clear you are alone and ask for advice on what to do next. Remember street names, landmarks, to assist emergency services in locating your vehicle.
Carry a hand torch in your vehicle. A personal alarm could also be a useful accessory.
Try not to overheat the car interior as it may become too warm and cause fatigue or motion sickness. It is better to keep additional clothing or a car blanket inside your vehicle. On long journeys, make sure you take regular breaks.
In the summer, if stick-on sun blinds are used to protect children or other passengers from sunlight, ensure that they are not used on the windshield, which would obscure the driver’s vision.
Do not place a back-facing child seat on the front passenger seat if an airbag is fitted.
Driver safety and road rage
A recent survey on road rage found that more than half of drivers had been sworn at, more than two-thirds had been the target of abusive hand signals, hundreds of thousands had been attacked or punched, and over a million drivers had been rammed by another car.
Do not get defensive with another driver if a driving error angers them to avoid a potential incident. Instead, acknowledge your mistake with a wave or say sorry.
Do not lose your temper. Returning verbal abuse or threatening gestures will only make things worse. Avoid eye contact. It may defuse the situation.
If followed, make your way to a highly-populated area and sound your horn or flash your lights to attract attention.
Don’t rise to any challenges while driving, drive at the correct speed limit and don’t be distracted. Some people have been known to point to imaginary faults on a vehicle; you should ignore them and check later in a safe place.
If you are forced off the road by another vehicle, lock all doors and do not leave your vehicle. If possible, drive on as soon as possible. Report any road rage incidents to the police, giving as much information as possible. If you see another driver in difficulty, drive on and report it by telephone as soon as possible. Do not stop to offer assistance.
Cell phones and learning to drive
Fully hands-free calling is fully integrated with your car’s sound system is the safest way to take calls, but not while learning to drive.
Is it safe to talk on mobile at all while driving?
The short answer is “no.” It’s not safe to use your cell phone while driving. You could still be prosecuted for driving dangerously, and you should avoid making calls, especially while learning to drive.
How can I make safer calls?
- Never use your cell phone while driving.
- Turn off your phone and take messages when you can park safely
- Silence your phone while you are learning to drive, to avoid the temptation to reach for your phone.
Preparing your car before learning to drive
Not preparing your car before you begin learning to drive could increase the risk of an inconvenient upset such as a breakdown. With this in mind, this information has been compiled to help you prepare your vehicle for learning to drive.
Here is how to prepare your vehicle before you start to learn how to drive:
- Check your vehicle is regularly serviced; consult your service book. It can be all too easy to overlook the correct service date.
- Check the operation of all exterior lights to ensure they comply with any legal requirements. All headlights and indicator lenses must be free from damage such as cracks or missing glass or plastic. Remember to keep the lights clean.
- Check front and rear wiper blades for wear or splitting. Also, do check windshield washers making sure that they are adjusted correctly. Windshield additive is also recommended.
- Ensure all dashboard warning lights operate correctly. If not, consult your owner’s handbook or call your local dealer.
- Check oil and water levels. Ensure they are topped up correctly. Pay particular attention to the electric fan.
- Inspect your battery electrolyte level topping this up with distilled water if necessary. Do check the battery connections ensuring that they are tight and free from any corrosion. Do not forget that battery acid is highly corrosive to skin and paintwork.
- Make sure the fan belt is of the correct tension and in good condition; adjust or replace as required. Ensure the ignition key is removed from the vehicle before checking.
- Tire condition should be checked (make sure to also check the spare tire) for tire pressure and legal tread depth. Note, it is generally acknowledged that the greater the tread depth, the more efficient the tire is of clearing water in its path, making driving in poor conditions safer.
- Inspect the jack and wheel brace making sure you are confident about their use. If locking wheel nuts are fitted, ensure the locking key is safely stowed away in the car. It may be useful to practice changing the spare wheel, following your owner’s handbook).
- Inspect car keys for wear and condition. Replace if necessary; remember, a worn key will quickly wear out a lock barrel causing the lock to jam. Make sure you have a spare set of keys for your car in a safe place. This also applies to alarm fobs. It is worth noting that batteries in the fob will also require replacement at least twice a year, to maintain operating performance.
Note: If you are in any doubt about these tips, consult the owner’s manual or your local car dealer.
Make sure the air conditioning works in your car, even during the winter months. This can be useful in winter and summer to help demist your vehicle quickly and reduce condensation.
Safety tips for learning to drive
- Plan your route. Remember, on long highway drives, and it is advisable to pull into highway service areas for regular breaks. Set out in plenty of time.
- Take something to eat and drink, just in case you are unlucky enough to get caught in any traffic congestion.
- Do not fill the fuel tank to the brim on especially hot days. As with most liquids, fuel will expand. This could lead to fuel leaking out of the filler neck of the fuel tank or breather.
- If you plan to take a motorhome, ensure you maintain your vehicle paying particular attention to brakes and tires. Note: Motorhome and trailer tires can get very old before they wear out. Examine them carefully for any signs of splitting or cracks in the sidewall or tread, replacing as required.
- Never overload your vehicle or motorhome beyond their designed carrying capacity – consult your owner’s manual for the relevant information on your vehicle. If you are in any doubt, you can get your vehicle weighed at a local weighbridge.
- Always leave plenty of room between you and the car in front. When your car is loaded, its braking distance will be increased.
- If you plan to tour abroad, call AAA to ensure that you, your car and your passengers have the necessary advice and documents for travel in the country of your choice.
- Use a driving app or listen to radio reports of any delays or road closures.
- If you take any medication, ensure you have extra supplies if necessary.
Advisable equipment to carry when driving in poor conditions
- Heavy-duty jump leads. Take care to follow any instructions issued with the leads. Note: On vehicles using electronic modules to control the ignition, incorrect usage of the jump leads could result in the modules being damaged.
- A good tow dolly. Ensuring any towing hooks that some vehicles now use are in the car, and that you also know how to remove the plastic cover (often located in the bumper), where the hook screws in.
- A good first aid kit.
- A high-quality torch. Preferably with long life / spare batteries.
- A warning triangle.
- A fire extinguisher.
- A spare fuel can.
- A light bulb kit.
- Spare cans of engine oil and water.
- A good up-to-date road map app.