11- Highway Driving

Highway driving – part one

Goal: Teach your teen highway basics and how to safely enter and exit a controlled access highway.

Location: Start on a multi-lane highway with easily accessible exits, at a time when traffic is light, such as a weekend morning. Move on to practice at heavier traffic times when your teen is ready.

Lesson one – observation

Have your teen spend some time on highways with you as the driver. Emphasize the importance of looking ahead to anticipate problems, and explain highway features, such as:

  • The different kinds of interchanges
  • The meanings of highway signs and signals
  • The meanings of different lane lines and markings

Teach your teen three rules to remember when driving on a highway:

  • Maintain proper speed.
  • Create space.
  • Always use your signal.

Lesson two – on-ramp segments

Explain the three segments of on-ramps, and how they’re used:

  • Entrance area: Provides time to search and evaluate space, and determine what speed is needed.
  • Acceleration area: The driver brings the vehicle up to the speed of highway traffic flow.
  • Merge area: The driver uses this space to merge into the traffic flow.

Lesson three – merging

There is plenty of time to merge. If a gap doesn’t present itself immediately, adjust your speed as early as possible in order to find one.

Teach the steps for merging onto a highway:

  • Check for on-ramp speed signs.
  • Before the entrance area, make quick glances at the highway, scanning for vehicles and entry gaps.
  • Signal to show intent to enter the highway and adjust speed to match the traffic flow.
  • In the merge area, enter the flow of traffic, checking mirrors and blind spots.
  • Turn off the turn signal and begin looking ahead to anticipate problems or upcoming lane changes.
  • Do not completely stop in the entrance area unless absolutely necessary.

Lesson four – exiting

Teach the steps for exiting a highway:

  • Identify the exit well ahead of time.
  • Scan traffic for problems when approaching the exit, but don’t slow down on the highway.
  • Start to signal four to six seconds before reaching the ramp.
  • Upon entering the ramp, tap the brakes and begin to slow down to the posted exit ramp speed limit before reaching the curve. On some ramps, be prepared to rapidly reduce your speed.

Practice both merging and exiting 10-12 times each, or more if needed for your teen to feel comfortable.

Worthy of repetition

Practice merging and exiting 10–12 times each, or more if needed for your teen to feel comfortable. Keep coaching your teen that always being attentive and looking ahead are key to safe driving.

Highway driving – part two

Goal: Teach your teen to maneuver safely in complex highway driving environments at higher speeds.

Location: Start on a multi-lane highway with easily-accessible exits, at a time when traffic is light, such as a weekend morning. Move on to practice at heavier traffic times when your teen is ready.

Lesson one – steering technique

For the first several lane changes you may need to talk your teen through the decision-making process. Double-check all mirrors to make sure that the lane is clear.

Once on the highway, coach your teen on steering technique. At fast highway speeds, excessive steering can be dangerous and lead to loss of control. Remind your teen to steer gently on highways.

Lesson two – lane changing

In the high-speed, complex highway environment, lane-changing skills are very important. Have your teen spend lots of time practicing the lane-changing and passing skills previously learned in “Skill nine: multi-lane roads,” until they are comfortable performing them at highway speeds. Remind your teen to:

  • Watch for merging vehicles and move one lane left to make space for them when needed.
  • Change lanes one at a time only.
  • Watch mirrors for tailgaters and move to another lane to let them pass. Grow comfortable with checking blind spots frequently to be aware of the traffic around you.
  • Change lanes to move around any stopped vehicle with flashing lights, or vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, never stop on the shoulder of a highway.

Lesson three – four-second rule

Review the four-second rule for following distance, learned in “Skill six: looking ahead.” At higher speeds it’s recommended to add more following distance. Additionally, coach your teen to use a four-second rule for these highway driving circumstances:

  • Merging onto a highway
  • Changing lanes
  • Exiting a highway

Lesson four – challenging road conditions

Coach your teen to adjust travel speed and vehicle position based on weather and road conditions. Once your teen is comfortable with and proficient at highway driving in good conditions, spend some practice time on highways under more challenging conditions, such as rain. Coach them to always use appropriate caution, as conditions can change quickly.

Lesson five – road trips

Consider planning some short day trips with your teen to a destination two to three hours away. Have them drive there and back. Find an event or place that you will both enjoy and have fun.

Higher order

Early in the training process, parental instruction tends to focus on vehicle handling. As your teen’s skills improve, try to focus on “higher order” instruction, such as scanning ahead, hazard detection, and anticipating other drivers’ behavior.