You've been a licensed driver for a couple of months. You've been on the major highways, the winding and hilly back roads, and found yourself caught in the rain a few times. But have you been stuck in the ultimate driving headache — bumper-to-bumper traffic? Here are tips for handling congestion, construction, and nighttime driving.
Driving 5 Miles per Hour — On the Freeway!
Traffic jams can create some of the most frustrating behind-the-wheel scenarios. The trick to dealing with backups is being prepared — and avoiding them whenever possible.
Here are some tips for avoiding traffic jams:
- The radio has more than just music. When you hop in the car, check the local news station for the latest traffic report. Some areas even have traffic-only stations. Or go online and check traffic cameras before you set out. If there is a jam, you'll be prepared and can try an alternate route.
- Take the road less traveled. Although highways may be the most direct route, back roads can be much less crowded (not to mention more scenic), saving you the frustration of stop-and-go traffic.
- Rush hour isn't just a cute nickname. OK, so the morning and afternoon traffic crunches last for several hours, but they're still called "rush hour" for a reason — everyone's on the road and in a hurry to get somewhere. Treat rush hour like bad weather — if you don't have to go anywhere, stay off the roads when there's a lot of traffic.
Dealing With Traffic
Here are some tips for those unavoidable traffic jams:
- Don't break the law. You've gone 30 feet in 30 minutes and all of a sudden you see people using the shoulders as lanes. Not only is this dangerous, it's illegal and there's a good chance they'll get caught — better them forking over a couple of hundred bucks for a ticket than you.
- Pay extra attention to zig-zaggers. When people have somewhere to be and can't get there, they can get pretty desperate. They may start switching lanes every 5 seconds or cut you off. Keep checking your windows and mirrors for these serial lane changers. If you can identify them when they're several cars back, you can be prepared when they get close to you.
- Look for an escape. If it is possible to exit the road safely, do it. The longer you stay in the backup, the faster you may lose your patience. Carry a map or GPS unit, or know your route well enough to adjust mid-trip if needed.
- Be courteous. Good manners may sound old-school, but common decency is not. In fact, politeness could help you avoid a collision. Traffic jams often involve multiple lanes merging. Allow people in from a lane that is ending. Speeding up to keep them out increases your chances of crashing and inciting road rage. And if you're in the lane that is ending, merge when it's your turn and try to remember to give a "thank-you" wave.
Construction zones can appear overnight, turning a road you knew like the back of your hand into a completely unknown place. It helps to know what all those orange work-zone signs mean (you can find out on your state's department of transportation website), but what else can you do?
- Look out for and avoid debris. If you can do it safely, avoid running over debris in a work zone. Scrap metal or nails can cause flat tires and blowouts.
- Start slowing down as soon as you see a sign that says work zone ahead. Don't wait until you come to the zone and slam on your brakes.
- Don't forget the all-important rule of work zones — FINES DOUBLE!
Even if you travel a certain route so often that you have the timing down to the minute, a crash or roadwork could cause unexpected delays. So always give yourself a little extra time. If you know your drive will take 15 minutes, give yourself 25–30 minutes just to be safe.
Nighttime Is the Right Time — to Pay Extra Attention to the Road
Nighttime driving is like the big brother to daytime driving. It's best to start driving after dark only after you have a lot of practice driving during the day — and practice driving at night with an experienced driver.
Some other tips to help you adjust to the lack of light:
- Don't chase your headlights. Like a dog chasing its tail, a driver chasing his or her headlights will never work out. While driving at night, it's a good rule of thumb to travel at a speed that allows you to brake within the distance covered by your headlights. Some states even have slower speed limits for nighttime driving.
- Swarm to the light like a bug. When you begin night driving, try to stick to well-lit roads. These roads will have a higher visibility than darker back roads.
- Was that a caribou? Chances are no, but it might have been a moose, a buck, or maybe even a reindeer. Whatever it was, it was big and rather strong, and if you'd hit it, you'd have been in trouble. Reduced visibility means reduced reaction time, so it's best to slow down at night. Keep your eyes moving, looking for animals on and around the road: They're unpredictable and may panic and run out in front of you.
- Blinded by the light. When someone forgets to turn down the high beams, it can leave you seeing spots. But feverishly flashing your lights back is not the solution. If the other car's lights are blinding you, what sense does it make to do the same to the other guy, making two blind drivers passing in the night? Instead, try not to look directly into the lights: look to the side of the roadway, away from the oncoming traffic, and focus on the white pavement markings or where the pavement meets the shoulder until the vehicle goes by.
- Don't let the sun go down on you! Or up for that matter. During those tricky in-between times when the sun's coming up or going down, it has a tendency to come at drivers at odd angles, causing glare and blind spots. Drivers may have trouble seeing other drivers, so flip on your lights. Driving with your lights on, even during the daytime, increases the visibility of your vehicle and may reduce your chances of being in a collision.
- Houston, we have a bum headlight. You wouldn't go out into a rainstorm with a bad windshield wiper. So why venture into the darkness of night with a bum headlight or taillight? Before heading out at night, do a quick check to make sure all systems are go. Also check to make sure your windshield is clean — inside and out. Too much grime can cause a monster glare from oncoming headlights.