When the United States Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, it changed the way Americans traveled. When completed, these new highways allowed us to drive cross country for the first time and travel hundreds of miles between stops.
But over time, the same factors that make highway driving so comfortable – namely high speed limits and the elimination of intersections – have also resulted in some bad habits.
At best, these highway driving mistakes are an annoyance to other drivers. And in the worst case, they can expose others to danger, leading to accidents and serious injuries.
Below is our list of the 16 biggest mistakes people make when driving on the highway.
- Drive slowly in the left lane. While the laws differ slightly from state to state, the left lane on a multi-lane highway is generally reserved for faster vehicles. This means that if you do not pass or travel faster than the flow of traffic, you should keep your car to the right. Driving slowly in the left lane can cause traffic congestion and may even encourage drivers to take more dangerous maneuvers to overtake you (such as passing in the right lane or axis).
- Drive when you are tired. This may seem obvious, but we drive best when we are awake and alert. When you are tired, your driving will suffer. Studies have actually shown that being awake for more than 18 hours can make you drive as if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.05 (close to the legal limit)! Driving when you are tired not only slows down the reaction time, but you can also fall asleep behind the wheel – which causes thousands of collisions every year. So if you feel tired, stop for a cup of coffee or stop for a quick nap. (See also: Drowsy driving: Is it really that bad?)
- Not to take breaks on long journeys. You do not need to be short of sleep for fatigue to set in. This is especially true on long road trips, when driving for hours on end can make you feel tired and less alert. So do not let a desire to reach your destination quickly expose others to risks. Stop and take a short break every few hours. This gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs and can help you stay more alert behind the wheel.
- Staying in the dead angle of a truck. Commercial trucks are large vehicles. Due to their size, they also have large blind spots. It is a term for the area a driver cannot see by looking through his window or mirror. If you are traveling in the blind spot of a truck, the driver may not realize you are there – which may cause them to hit you. To avoid driving in the blind spot of a truck, follow this rule of thumb: If you can not see the driver in his side mirror, he can not see you either.
- Speeding. On most highways in the United States, a speed limit will be set somewhere between 55 and 80 miles per hour. Driving over the specified limit can not only give you a speeding ticket – it can jeopardize the safety of yourself and other drivers. Our 2021 survey revealed the top five reasons why drivers admit to driving fast.
- Only rely on safety systems (and not your eyes and ears). High-tech vehicle safety systems are becoming more and more advanced for each new model year. Adaptive cruise control. Automatic emergency braking. Lane keeping assistant. Dead angle monitoring. The list goes on … Each of these systems is designed to prevent accidents and keep drivers safe. And for the most part, they do a fantastic job. But this can lead to drivers relying too much on their cars to drive, brake and accelerate for them. Remember that these systems are not always perfect, and they are not designed to reduce your responsibility behind the wheel.
- Do not use your turn signals. When changing lanes on the highway, the law requires that you always use your turn signals. But it is not uncommon to see vehicles sliding from lane to lane without signaling. Using your turn signals helps prevent accidents by letting other drivers know – and plan for – your movements.
- Holds the light on. On dark, distant motorways, visibility becomes extra important. By turning on your high beam headlights, you can look further down the road, increasing your visibility up to 300 feet. This not only helps you navigate the way forward, it can also help you avoid hitting an animal, like a deer. But having headlights on with other drivers on the road can be a dazzling safety risk. Do not let your headlights endanger others. Only use your light sources when other vehicles are at least 500 feet away. Read more in our related article: The Driver’s Guide to Headlights.
- Does not give way to oncoming traffic. While highway driving eliminates traffic lights and intersections, you still need to deal with vehicles joining in and out of the road. As a car approaches from a driveway, try to pay attention to oncoming traffic and give them space to cross into your lane. In most states, the vehicle on the highway takes precedence. However, adjusting your speed (or better yet, moving to another lane) to allow another vehicle to collide safely can reduce the risk of an accident.
- Do not use your mirrors. When changing lanes on the highway, always check your mirrors and blind spots before making a move. Look out for nearby vehicles, including those that can approach quickly on both sides. If you do not do this, you may find yourself turning onto the road to another vehicle.
- Tailgate. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions account for almost 30 percent of all accidents. And the tailgate, or following another vehicle too closely, is a major cause. It is especially dangerous with tailgates on the highway because you travel such long distances at higher speeds. That’s why experts recommend that you follow the “three-second rule” – allowing three-second intervals to pass an object after the car in front of you does so.
- The anger behind the wheel. When dealing with bad or ruthless drivers, it can be easy to let your anger get the best of you. But when road rage takes over, it can lead to an even more dangerous situation driven by hasty, aggressive behavior. So take a step back and relax. Put things in perspective. And if you come across another driver showing road rage, do your best to avoid or downsize each confrontation.
- Bad passing label. Have you ever tried to pass someone on the highway, just to get them to accelerate and match your speed? This is an example of bad etiquette. When passing another vehicle (or being overtaken), make sure that both cars have plenty of space to carry out the pass safely.
- Inconsistent speed. The best way to drive on the highway is to keep your vehicle at a safe, constant speed. Using your car’s cruise control is a great way to accomplish this. Constantly increasing speed and slowing down is not only an annoyance to other drivers, it can also impede traffic flow.
- Hard braking. Breaking the brake pedal is an accident that is waiting to happen – especially at highway speeds. To avoid hard braking, always keep a safe distance behind the car in front of you and keep your eyes on the road at all times.
- Distracted driving. We have all seen drivers cruising along the highway with their eyes focused on a telephone instead of on the road. It is a behavior that causes thousands of accidents (and more than 3,000 deaths) every year. Avoid the temptation to use your phone while driving. Your safety is always worth the wait.
Getting the right protection is never a mistake
At Erie Insurance, our promise is simple: to be there when you need us. Whether you take the less traveled route or on your daily commute, you can trust that we provide the protection you deserve – at a price you can afford. Call a local affiliate near you today to learn more about ERIE car insurance.