Careful observation of signs, signals and roadway markings is especially critical when you drive on the freeways where traffic speed is, of course, much faster.  Safe travel requires you to take additional care. Speed limit signs and laws are easy to understand; yet speeding violations are a disproportionately large percentage of total citations.

California’s Basic Speed Law prohibits operation of a vehicle at a speed greater than is safe under prevailing traffic and road conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit.

Abiding by this law should serve as the central principle in the formation of your good driving habits.


The United States has one of the most advanced roadway systems in the world. These roads, called highways and freeways, connect cities across the country. Their special design separates traffic and eliminates intersections, pedestrians and slower vehicles.

The sustained high speeds of these roads generates heat, which stresses the mechanical parts of your car. Preventive maintenance is therefore essential to avoiding costly and hazardous on-freeway breakdowns.

Particular attention should be paid to your tire pressure. Tires should always be inflated to the pressure suggested by the manufacturer. Coolant level and the condition of the hoses and belts in your engine should also be checked regularly.

Freeway Driving

Since freeway entrances and exits are often far apart, planning your route in advance is important. Be sure to carefully map your route before beginning your trip. Learn the name, highway number and direction of all roads you plan to take.  Make sure you know the names of the exits that come immediately before the exit you plan to take.

When entering a freeway, make sure that the road or ramp you have selected is an entrance ramp.  "DO NOT ENTER" and "WRONG WAY" signs often warn that such a road is an exit ramp.

Although freeways are among the nation's safest roads, they do require special skills. Although modern freeways show many fewer accidents than surface streets, the collisions that do occur are generally more severe due to higher speeds.  These higher speeds and increased traffic volumes often require drivers to make complex, split-second decisions at critical moments.

As soon as you enter a freeway entrance ramp, you should begin to check traffic. This is best accomplished with quick glances over your shoulder and into the side mirror to find a gap in the traffic. To alert the drivers on the freeway of your intention to enter, use your turn signals until you have successfully merged into the first through lane.

The two most common mistakes when entering the freeway are:

Suddenly slowing or stopping.
Merging at too slow a speed.

Always anticipate the actions of the vehicle ahead:  it may suddenly slow or stop. You should always allow plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.

On some freeways, there is almost no entrance or acceleration lane - the ramp takes you directly onto the freeway.  Signs may be posted for you to yield.  In this case, you will have to wait for a longer gap and accelerate quickly in order to merge with freeway traffic.

When driving in the right hand lane of the freeway, you may notice drivers attempting to enter the freeway. Help them by adjusting your speed and moving to the next lane. This will create a gap for them to safely move onto the freeway.

Once on the freeway, choose the legal speed that matches the speed of traffic and is suitable for visibility, traffic, and road conditions.

When you go faster or slower than other traffic on the freeway, you increase your chances of having an accident.

Choosing a Lane

On a two-lane freeway, use the right lane as a cruising lane and the left lane as a passing lane.

On a three-lane freeway, use the right lane as a slower lane, the middle lane as a cruising lane, and the left-hand lane as a passing lane.

When changing lanes, make sure that it is safe, and that the drivers around you are not about to change lanes.

At freeway speeds, fast vehicles from the rear can quickly enter your blind spot.

Before moving into another lane, signal your movements in advance, and avoid any sudden moves that could startle the drivers near you.

Check your side and rear view mirrors. Glance over your shoulder in the direction of the lane change.

Avoid reducing speed during lane changes, since this can create a hazard for other drivers by forcing the driver in the lane next to you to brake.

In order to avoid last minutes moves, you should anticipate hazards to come. To do this, look down the road 10 to 15 seconds ahead of your vehicle, instead of constantly staring at the road just in front of your car. On the highway, 10 to 15 seconds is about a quarter of a mile.

Special turnout areas are sometimes marked on two-lane roads. If necessary, you may pull to the side in these areas and allow cars behind you to pass.

Carpool Lanes and Controlled On-Ramps

Carpooling and riding buses are good ways to save fuel,  reduce the number of vehicles on our highways, and reduce pollution.

Some freeways have special lanes and on-ramps for carpools and other High Occupancy Vehicles (HOVs).  Using a carpool or HOV lane requires a minimum of 2 or 3 people in a vehicle, including the driver, depending on how the lane is marked.

Signs at the on-ramp or along the freeway tell you the number of people required in your vehicle in order to use that lane, as well as the days and hours to which the requirement applies.

The pavement of these lanes is usually marked with a diamond shape and the word "HOV."  Some freeways may have a special lane for buses only, or that lane may be for both buses and carpools. A bus-only lane will also be marked by the diamond symbol.

Never cross a set of double lines to enter or exit any carpool or HOV lane.

Violating the requirements of an HOV or bus lane will result in a fine of as much as $271 in many parts of California.

Changing Lanes

Whenever you change lanes, check behind you to make sure you are not getting in the way of cars in that lane.

Changing lanes includes:

Changing from one lane to another.
Entering the freeway from an on-ramp.
Entering the road from a curb or shoulder.

Before changing lanes, always check traffic behind and beside you by:

Checking all mirrors.
Glancing over your left or right shoulder to make sure the lane you want is clear. If you use only your left or inside rearview mirrors when looking for cars, you may not see vehicles near the rear of your car because of a "blind spot."
Always check traffic to the sides quickly. Do not take your eyes off the road ahead for more than an instant. Check for other cars with their turn signals on. Someone in another lane may plan to move into the same spot you want.

When you must slow down suddenly, take a quick glance in your mirrors.

You should also check your mirrors when you are preparing to turn into a side road or driveway, and when you are stopping to pull into a parking space.



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