The last complex driving skills that we’re going to cover in our Tips and Facts for Teen Drivers series are changing lanes, getting on/off highways, and just generally being aware of your vehicle spatially while you’re on the road. Like many of the skills we’ve discussed in this series, they’re all important things to know when you learn to drive, but because they seem so obvious to experienced drivers, they’re sometimes overlooked when we’re teaching teens to drive, or sometimes it’s hard to verbalize how to do them, because for us it’s just reflexive.
When you’re changing lanes, the absolute most important maneuver to master is checking your blind spot. No matter how well you think your rearview mirrors are adjusted, and even if you’re convinced that you ‘don’t have’ a blind spot, getting into the habit of glancing over your shoulder before moving your vehicle from one lane to another is crucial. When you’ve decided that you’re going to change lanes, you need to check the front, back, sides, and blind spot of your vehicle to make sure there aren’t any other cars driving too closely to you. When you’ve determined that there is a stable gap in traffic for you to change into, you turn your signal on to indicate your lane change to the drivers around you, check your blind spot once more, and change lanes either at your current speed or at a slightly increased speed. It is important to note that you should never slow down while changing lanes, and if you feel you need to, there’s a good chance that the circumstances of changing lanes probably weren’t great. Having enough space to make a lane change should mean that there aren’t any cars near you, so you shouldn’t need to slow down, and doing so may cause traffic issues. Once you’re in the lane, adjust your speed to match the traffic around you, turn off your signal, and check your mirrors to make sure you’re a good distance from the cars around you.
When entering the highway, you always want to signal your intention to merge. As you drive down the entrance ramp, you have to look both at the oncoming traffic behind you on the highway, and any cars that may be before you on the ramp. In the best case scenario, as you drive down the entrance ramp, you notice that there is a gap in the oncoming traffic that will allow you to enter, and there aren’t any cars ahead of you on the ramp. In such an instance, you’re able to merge onto the highway at a steady speed, and accelerate as soon as you’re on the highway. You may often have to stop on the entrance ramp to the highway if the oncoming traffic doesn’t immediately allow for you to enter safely. In this case, you need to monitor the oncoming traffic in your sideview mirror with your signal on, waiting for a gap in traffic. When you’ve chosen the car you’re going to merge behind, wait for it to pass, check your blind spot, and steadily accelerate to merge onto the highway. Once you’re on the highway, adjust your speed to meet the traffic around you and turn off your signal.
When exiting the highway, you always want to signal your intention, just as you do when entering the highway. Always make sure you signal a decent distance from the exit to give ample time for the car behind you to prepare. Maintain your speed until you reach the exit ramp, and use controlled braking as you enter the exit ramp to reduce your speed to the speed limit or less. Remember that sometimes when exiting the highway you may need to slow down or stop suddenly for a number of reasons, such as a stop sign at the end of the ramp, heavy traffic, or a very slow ramp speed limit.
As far as just being aware of your vehicle spatially on the road is concerned, every new driver should become familiar with the three-second rule. Watch the car in front of you pass an object, and then count the time it takes for your car to reach that object—it should take you three seconds. If it takes you less than three seconds, it means you’re driving too fast and need to slow down. If you’re driving over 30mph, in heavy traffic, bad weather, or behind any vehicle other than a car, you should keep a distance of at least four seconds. Remember that it’s always important to use your judgment in these situations, and if you feel more space is necessary, you should trust your instincts. When you’re in a school zone, be aware that speed limits decrease significantly and often suddenly. It’s important to be mindful of the posted speed limits on all roads, to make sure that you don’t exceed them unknowingly. Additionally, school zones warn drivers to be alert to the potential for children and pedestrians to suddenly appear in the roadway, so extra caution needs to be taken in these areas. Similarly, crosswalks are also often overlooked by drivers, so it’s important to keep your eye out for them. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks in many states, so it’s important to stop at them to allow them to cross the road.
Practice is essential when learning to drive, so the more you take your teen driver out to test their skills, the faster they’ll get the hang of it!