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Web Traffic School
SECTION 3.6 Review: Your Vehicle in the Urban Environment
City Driving: Reducing Speed

The congestion of city traffic is a challenge to most drivers. In order to drive safely in the city, drivers must reduce their speed and drive with the flow of the traffic. Selecting the correct, reduced speed for city streets will give you more time to:

  • See details and identify their meaning.
  • Analyze information and predict the traffic situation.
  • React and decide what to do next.
  • Execute decisions or avoid dangerous situations.

City Driving: Looking Ahead of Traffic

In addition to making regular checks for hazards near your vehicle, check the traffic scene at least one block ahead (10-15 seconds) of you whenever city traffic allows you to see that far.

Because city streets usually are not wide enough for you to use the shoulders or to change lanes in case of an emergency, you will have to leave ample distance between you and other vehicles and choose the lane that offers the least potential hazard.

City Driving: Signal Lights

In order to plan safely in city traffic, you should look well ahead of your vehicle for traffic signal changes. If you look a block ahead of your car, you can check the traffic signal at the next corner and you will have more time to decide what to do before reaching the next intersection.

Once you are surveying the scene in front of you, try and anticipate signal changes:

  • If the light ahead is red, you need to slow down to prepare for a smooth stop.
  • If the light is green when you first notice it, you should expect it to change soon and adjust your speed accordingly. A traffic light that has been green and will momentarily turn red is called a "stale green light."
  • If you are able to identify a stale green light, you have to decide whether to slow and stop or to continue through the intersection. Never speed up to get through a green light before it changes.

City Driving: Covering your Brake

"Covering your brake" is an important safety technique that involves taking your foot off of the accelerator and holding it over the brake pedal, ready to brake. The purpose of covering the brake is to be able to stop quickly in an emergency situation.

You should cover your brake:

  • While driving next to parked cars. Drive at least one car door’s width away from parked cars when your lane is wide enough, and be ready to stop if a car door opens or something or someone emerges from between two cars.
  • When the brake lights of parked or moving vehicles are on. If cars around you are reacting to something by braking, you should be prepared to react as well.
  • As you approach any intersection, cover the brake, slow down if necessary, evaluate the intersection and traffic situation, and be prepared to stop if necessary.

You should avoid driving with your foot actually on the brake pedal, which will force your brake lights to remain on. This is called "riding the brakes." The driver following you will assume that you are planning to stop or slowing down if your brake lights are on for any length of the time. When you don’t slow or stop, they will become confused. Riding your brakes will also wear them out over time.

City Driving: City Passing

Passing on a two-lane, two-way city street is especially hazardous, because your passing lane is the lane for oncoming traffic. You have to very carefully judge the distance of oncoming traffic while simultaneously evaluating the street for other hazards.

When passing on a two-lane road, turn your left signal light on 100 feet ahead in business or residential areas, 300 feet ahead in other areas.

Do not pass in or near an urban intersection. At intersections, cars from the side streets may be turning directly into your path if you are passing and make the situation extremely dangerous.

City Driving: Lane Selection

Position your car accordingly for right and left turns. Parked cars, bicyclists, and motorcyclists may obstruct right lanes and will require special attention. As you prepare yourself for a left turn, move into the very left lane and adjust your speed and position accordingly.

When you want to change lanes:

  • Use your rear and side view mirrors to check traffic.
  • Signal 100 feet (10 car lengths) on city streets, 300 feet (30 car lengths) on highways or freeways, before changing lanes.
  • Check blind spot by looking over your shoulder and change lanes when traffic is clear.
  • Watch out for truck-trailer rigs, buses, motorcycles and bicycles.
  • Do not change lanes in intersection.

If you are planning to drive a long distance on a particular road without turning, you may be better off choosing a less traveled or congested lane, the "lane of least resistance," one that is free of both turning vehicles and hazardous traffic like bikes and motorcycles. This would usually be the middle lane of three lanes, for instance.

City Driving: Choosing a Safe Route

Time of Day

You should avoid driving during rush hours if possible. Some streets and highways will be heavily congested and present substantially more danger than others. Choose a route and a time of day that is less busy and where traffic flows more smoothly.

Thru Streets versus Side Streets

Major streets and "thru" streets are built to provide better traffic flow than smaller streets. They have central dividers, two or more lanes in one direction, lanes for left turns, and traffic signals.

You may have less traffic on side streets, but driving there could be more dangerous. Intersections may be controlled by stop or yield signs, or not controlled at all, and drivers are likely to be less aware of other traffic than on major streets.

One Way versus Two Way Streets.

Most major US cities have added one-way streets and divided two-way streets to allow for a greater volume of traffic with less congestion and greater safety.

City Driving: Special Problems

Detours

Detours to your route may be used if the main route is under construction, is unsafe for some reason, or unavailable. As soon as you see a detour sign, change lanes so that you can keep moving smoothly and help others to blend into the new traffic flow smoothly as well. If there is a worker or other official directing traffic, obey their instructions promptly and precisely.

Dedicated Left Turn Lanes

If a street has a dedicated center left turn lane, you must use it when you turn left. Since these lanes are typically used for traffic from both directions, you may only drive for 200 feet in a center, left-turn lane.

Never use this lane for regular driving lane or a passing lane. To turn left from the street, drive completely inside the center left-turn lane. Watch for vehicles coming head-on toward you in the same lane as they start to make their left turns. Make sure the lanes you will be crossing are clear in both directions and then turn only once it is safe. You may drive across a center left-turn lane when necessary.

Turning at City Intersections

To make safe and legal turns you need to do the following:

  • Make sure you are in the correct lane well ahead of time.
  • Look ahead, behind, and to each side of your vehicle. Be aware of other drivers and pedestrians.
  • Signal your turn at least 100 feet ahead (about 10 car lengths) on city streets and 300 feet (30 car lengths) on open highways.
  • Watch for and obey traffic signals, signs, and pavement markings that direct your movement.
  • Allow time and space to make your turn safely. Slow down.
  • Yield right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic.
  • Steer through the turn and accelerate to the speed of traffic. Be sure your turn signal is off.

One-Way Streets

You can identify one-way streets several ways:

  • At the intersections and on both sides of the street, signs will indicate "one way."
  • All the lanes and markings are white, rather than yellow.
  • Parked vehicles are pointed in the same direction on both sides of the street.

To safely enter a one-way street, you should turn from the lane closest to the new street at a speed that is safe for the conditions:

  • Get into the right-most lane before making a right turn.
  • Turning into a one-way street to your left requires a sharp left turn into the very left-most lane.

When a one-way street ends or changes somehow, signs will inform you.

  • Many drivers wait too long to change lanes before they turn. Make your lane change a block or two before the turn, if possible.
  • When you are leaving a one-way street, make your left turns from the far left lane. On some streets you can turn left into another multi-lane street from more than one lane, in which case pavement markings or overhead signs will direct you.
  • For right turns, turn from the far right lane.

If a vehicle is headed the wrong way (towards you) down a one-way street, try to avoid an accident by reducing your speed, changing lanes to the right, and communicate with the other driver using your headlights or horn.

Backing Safely: Children and Small Objects

If you have parked in such a manner that you will need to back the vehicle, make sure you make a safety check of the rear of the vehicle before you get inside. Check behind your vehicle and in the vicinity for small objects that may be damaged by backing over them, or may damage your car. Also check for small children or animals, both of whom might wander behind your vehicle and be severely injured.

Backing Safely: Speed Control

When you back your vehicle, it is important to maintain good control of your speed. Press and release the brake pedal to adjust your speed, and make sure you proceed slowly enough that you can safely control the car at all times and be able to stop immediately if necessary -- approximately 3 to 5 mph.

Backing Safely: Steering Through Turns and Around Corners

If it is necessary for you to make a sharp turn or go around a corner while backing, make sure to exercise special care, drive extremely slowly, maintain control of the steering wheel, and always look over your right shoulder to see the street behind your vehicle. Do not be afraid to ask a passenger to get out of the vehicle and help you maneuver, if necessary.

Backing Safely: Constricted Movement

In a tight parking lot or other difficult backing situation, you should certainly ask a passenger to get out and help. Make sure you proceed with maximum caution and use the control techniques discussed above. Use your mirrors when necessary, but be careful, they are really an option of last resort when backing.

You can frequently avoid backing by carefully evaluating the situation around you and planning accordingly. Try and avoid backing whenever possible and find parking spaces that do not require you to back up.

Intersections: Skills Required

Moving into a gap in traffic or crossing a stream of traffic through a gap are two of the most dangerous maneuvers in everyday driving. You will have to be able judge the speed and the position of other vehicles and scan the road far ahead of you to select the most efficient path of travel:

  • The major source of problems is the traffic in front of you.
  • Check to the rear of your vehicle for possible conflicts any time anything in front of you indicates that you may need to adjust speed or position.
  • From a stopped position, it usually takes about 4 seconds to cross a street 24 to 30 feet wide.
  • You will need at least a 5 to 6 second gap (about half a block) in both directions in order to cross safely.

Intersections: Protected and Unprotected Left turns

A "protected left turn" occurs when you are turning:

  • With a green arrow.
  • With a separate green traffic signal specifically for left turns.
  • At a green light that is advanced or delayed from the normal light, specifically for left turns.
  • While a traffic control officer controls other traffic and directs you to turn.

Before turning, you must still check for vehicles in the intersection, pedestrians, and other hazards, and proceed only when it is safe to do so.

You will be making an unprotected left turn:

  • At any uncontrolled intersection.
  • At a controlled intersection without a special left turn light or arrow.
  • When a special turn light ends and you are still permitted to make a left turn.

Intersections: Vehicle Position Before and After A Turn

Before beginning your left turn:

  • Position your vehicle in the left-most lane you are permitted to use, or in a designated left turn lane if there are multiple lanes.
  • Be sure that your wheels are positioned straight ahead. If you were to be struck in the rear while waiting, you would otherwise be forced into oncoming traffic.

While turning, drive in the closest left lane that is available. Change lanes only after the turn is safely completed.

Intersections: When your View is Blocked

If you are forced to begin a turn while your view is blocked:

  • Come to a full stop, then inch slowly forward.
  • Approaching vehicles may honk to communicate with you – make sure you listen carefully.
  • Begin to accelerate into your turn only once you can see far enough into the cross-street to be sure that it is safe.

U-Turns

In Nevada, U-turns are generally allowed on any road when they can be made safely. They are specifically NOT allowed:
-- anytime a traffic sign or signal prohibit them;
-- in a business district, EXCEPT at intersection or an appropriate opening on a divided highway;
-- on curves;
-- near a grade, where there is less than 500 feet visibility in both directions

Intersections: Proceeding Straight and Covering the Brake Pedal

When you approach an intersection with the intention of proceeding straight ahead, release the accelerator and cover the brake pedal with your foot. Check that you can cross safely before you enter the intersection. Once you have entered the intersection, return your foot to the gas pedal and continue through the intersection.

Intersections: Signaling While Stopping

In order to avoid rear-end collisions, it is essential that you communicate your intention to either stop or slow down to other drivers around you. When you make the decision to begin either slowing down or stopping, either tap your brakes to flash your brake lights, show a hand signal, or use your turn signals to inform the driver behind you to be cautious, that you are slowing down.

Intersections: Railroad Crossings

A round Railroad Crossing sign warns of a railroad crossing ahead. Look and listen for trains coming from both directions. Be ready to stop if necessary.

  • Never stop on a railroad track.
  • Flashing lights at a railroad crossing mean STOP!
  • Stop at least 15 feet from the track when a person or a signal warns that a train is coming, or you see a train coming, or you hear the horn or bell of a train close by.
  • Never start across if there is not room for your vehicle on the other side of the track
  • Do not go around or under any closed railroad gates.
  • Cross only when it is safe.
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