Driving on the highway for the first time can be nerve racking, which is why it’s common for new drivers to only navigate local roads until they gain enough real-world experience to venture onto the interstate. Once a new driver is ready to take on a highway, being fully prepared can help a beginner make a smooth and safe transition from local roads to the interstate.
Here are some highway driving tips that new drivers should consider before driving on the highway for the first time.
1. Pick the right time to start driving on the highway
If you’re planning your first highway drive, you want to pick the right time and place. Consider starting off on a highway that isn’t too busy, or during a time of day when less drivers are on the road. You also want to drive on a bright, clear day without any rain, snow or fog that could decrease visibility.
2. Start off driving in the right lane
When you’re driving on the highway for the first time, you should only drive in the right lane. Young drivers really have no business heading into the left lane, which is intended for passing. “Staying in the right lane will help them interact with traffic coming onto the freeway, and they’ll maintain their speed easier there,” says Maria A. Wojtczak, who owns and operates DrivingMBA, a driver’s-ed business in Arizona.
3. Leave enough space to change lanes
Establishing proper speed and distance remains key to managing a lane change on an interstate. Drivers should leave four to six seconds-worth of space between their car and the vehicle in front of them as they maneuver. You should also routinely check the rear-view, side-view mirror and blind spot before switching over. More space means you have more time to avoid a collision or react to debris on the highway.
4. Use turn signals when merging and changing lanes
Young drivers must get in the habit of using their blinkers constantly, even if they believe their intentions are obvious. “Blinkers are the only way we have to communicate with other drivers,” says Chris Duquin, owner of Stevens Driving School, which has several locations in the state of New York. “It’s amazing how often drivers cause problems by not using them on highways.”
5. Keep a wide viewpoint
Newer drivers tend to stare at what’s right in front of them. But highway speeds and unpredictability demand a wider viewpoint. “They need to look closely in front of their vehicle, but also farther down the road and into the rear-view,” Duquin says. “Good drivers continuously adjust their observation points.”
6. Keep your cool while driving
Learning to drive on the highway is about more than proper driving—it’s also about making sure a young driver’s maturity level is up to the task. “They must understand never to take anything personally, especially on a highway,” says Michael Soubirous, a retired California Highway Patrol lieutenant who now writes a local newspaper column in Riverside, Calif., called “On the Road.” “If someone cuts you off, let it go. You never know the mental state of the other party and maybe they simply made a mistake. Drivers are not perfect, after all.”
7. Stay focused on the road
According to the CDC, drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. That’s why it’s crucial to stay focused on the highway. Don’t text on your phone, try to change music or be distracted by talking to friends while driving on the highway. Find out ways to prevent teen distracted driving.