12 Tips for getting the hang of highway driving


Driving on the highway can seem pretty daunting, especially when you’re a newly licensed driver and you haven’t driven on one before.

Book a few extra lessons after you pass your G1-exit road test. Your instructor will take you through the basics driving on the highway, and help you get safe and confident.

Here are our top tips for tackling highway driving.

1. Take someone with you

Ideally, we would recommend that you book a few extra lessons after you pass your test so your instructor can introduce you to more advanced aspects of driving.

Failing that, it is a great idea to take along someone who can advise and reassure you for your first trip on the highway – maybe a parent who has already accompanied you on practice sessions while you were learning to drive?

Avoid taking a car full of friends for your first drive on a highway – they will only distract you and potentially put you at risk.

2. Match your speed when merging onto the highway

The key to merging with highway traffic safety is to match the speed of the cars already traveling on the highway. You need to accelerate as you drive along the ramp and follow the usual ‘mirror, signal, maneuver’ procedure to find an appropriate gap in the moving traffic.

Generally, the traffic will move to make space for you but be prepared to slow down if you need to.

If you do have to slow down, remember it is very unsafe to come to a full stop on the ramp. The cars behind you are speeding up to merge onto the highway. If you come to a dead stop, they could crash into you, and might even push you into the path of highway traffic.

Plus, it will be very hard for you to merge with traffic moving at 100 km/h from a standing start.

3. Make the most of your mirrors

Mirrors are a hugely important part of highway driving. Start off by making sure yours are clean and correctly positioned. You’ll be using them to join the highway and every time you change lanes so they need to be in top working order.

Don’t forget to turn your head to check your blind spots too! With traffic moving at top speeds you can never be too careful.

4. Stick to the speed limit

Ontario’s highway speed limit is 100km/h – but look out for exceptions to this.

If there is construction on the road, for instance, you may see signs indicating a lower speed and you’ll need to slow down.

Breaking the speed limit is both dangerous and illegal – if other cars are moving faster than the limit, stay in the right lane and keep out of their way.

Keep to the right

Sometimes you’ll find highways have more than 3 lanes – it is good highway etiquette to stay in the right-most lane. Stay clear of the middle and left-most lane unless you’re overtaking slower traffic.

While in the right lane, watch for cars trying to merge onto the highway and give them adequate space to make the move.

5. Overtake correctly

Once you have joined the highway, stay in the right lane unless you’re overtaking slower traffic. If you do decide to overtake, use the usual ‘mirror, signal, maneuver’ procedure when moving in and out of lanes and avoid sitting in the middle lane – especially if you see cars passing you on both the left and right side.

Watch out for large vehicles like trucks changing lanes – they have much bigger blind spots than you, so keep your distance!

6. Keep your distance

With cars traveling at such high speeds, you need to allow far more space to stop. Follow the 2-second rule to ensure there is enough space between you and the car in front.

The 2-second rule

The 2-second rule is a handy way of getting your spacing right on the road. Choose a fixed point such as a streetlight or bridge and when the car in front of you passes it starts counting 2 seconds. As you finish speaking you should be reaching that same point. That puts you 2 seconds behind the car you’re following.

The Ontario Driver’s Handbook recommends a 2-3 second gap to be super safe.

7. Take a break

Being tired slows your response times and can cause accidents. If you’re on a long journey make sure you take a 15-minute break AT LEAST every 2 hours.

8. Use your hazard lights

If you come up to slow or non-moving traffic on a highway, or any kind of hazard or obstruction, it’s a good idea to use your hazards to warn drivers behind you that they should slow down. Your brake lights serve the same purpose, but a driver behind you might miss this signal if they look away for a moment.

9. In case of a breakdown

Move onto the shoulder as soon as possible and switch on your hazard lights. Once you’re at a stop, use your cellphone to call for help.

If you have a flat tire and have pulled over in a narrow shoulder, DO NOT try to change your tire without calling the police. Other drivers may not notice you squatting by the fire and you could die or be seriously injured if hit by the fast-moving traffic.

Call the Ontario Provincial Police at 1-888-310-1122 and they will arrange to close off a section of the lane near the shoulder so you can safely change your tire.

If your car has broken down and you are absolutely unable to steer it into the shoulder, then leave the car and walk over to the shoulder. Do not stay in the car in the middle of traffic, or you risk being hit and injured.

10. Expect the unexpected!

No matter how careful you are there’s no accounting for the behavior of others. Even though highways are statistically safer, with cars moving at such high speeds if something does go wrong, it’s likely to go badly wrong.

So keep your wits about you at all times. Check your mirrors and your blind spot regularly and avoid any kind of distraction from passengers, your mobile phone or the radio.

11. Eyes on the road (and mirrors)

It is human nature to be curious about accidents on the road – we become worried about the injured drivers. But if you see an accident on the highway, keep your eyes on the road and check your mirrors to make sure you don’t end up the same way.

The OPP could charge you for distracted driving if you try turning your head to gawk at an accident. (It’s called rubbernecking.) And don’t even think about trying to take a photo of the scene.

12. Exit the highway properly

Plan your route before you leave and keep an eye out for advance and interchange signs – these let you know how far it is to the exit you need.

There are usually three parts to a highway exit: a deceleration lane for slowing down that leads you out of the main flow of traffic, an exit ramp and finally an intersection with a stop sign, yield sign or traffic light.

When you need to leave the highway, check your mirrors and your blind spot, and then signal that you want to move into the deceleration lane, but do not slow down. Once you’re in the lane, gradually reduce your speed to the limit shown for the exit ramp. Check your speedometer to make sure you’re slow enough and be prepared to stop at the end of the exit ramp.

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