Ask The Driving School Instructor: Interstate Driving
October 20, 2014
Question: When should a permit driver drive on the interstate for the first time?
Answer: This is a hard one to answer. Driving on the interstate should be a required part of every new driver’s training but when to attempt it will be different for each driver.
The first thing to know is that, scary as they may seem, driving on interstates or limited access highways, is actually safer than driving on a country road. More fatal crashes occur on country roads than on interstates. However, interstates do require special skills.
Interstates require that a driver drive at high speeds. Driving too slowly on the interstate can be dangerous. Interstates also require that a driver know how to merge smoothly into traffic and the new driver may be dealing with a lot more traffic than he or she is used to.
As far as when to get on the interstate for the first time, the new driver should have a lot of driving experience including driving at higher speeds. After getting experience in driving in heavier traffic, the new driver should first practice on multi-lane highways with speeds above 50 mph.
Instead of jumping into city interstate traffic, it’s best to expose the new driver to the interstate in a rural area where traffic may not be so heavy. After getting experience there, the driver can be slowly exposed city traffic.
When entering the interstate, it’s important to remember that you need to get up to interstate speeds on the entrance ramp. As you near the end of the ramp, watch for an opening in traffic and then adjust your speed to merge into that opening. Never stop on an entrance ramp unless traffic just won’t give you enough clear space to merge. After merging into traffic, keep at least a two second following distance between you and the vehicle ahead.
Once you’re on the interstate, you should practice merging and changing lanes. Remember to stay out of the far left lane unless you’re passing slower traffic. Once you’ve passed, move back into the center or right lane.
Pay attention to speed limit signs. Speeds on rural interstates may be as high as 70 mph but can go down as low as 55 mph when nearing a city. Driving with the flow of traffic doesn’t mean you should go over the speed limit. Driving too fast limits the reaction time you need to make decisions to avoid a crash.
If you miss your exit, never try to stop and back up. Go to the next exit and reenter the interstate in the other direction to get back to your exit. When exiting the interstate, get into the correct lane at least one-half a mile before the exit. Don’t slow to exit until you enter the exit ramp.