The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has lots of highways which allow for more speed and freedom when driving but can also pose their own unique risks. Many of us regularly take these freeways to get to work and social events. And with the upcoming holiday weekend, even more people will be taking to the highways and byways to travel to see loved ones. If you drive on them regularly or are planning extra driving time this weekend, here are some things to know to make navigating them safer.
- First, whenever possible, avoid driving on major thoroughfares during rush hour. The added congestion negates that speed and freedom they were designed to offer. Rush hour traffic jams can lead to stress and heightened tempers that may cause drivers to make reckless decisions. How often have you seen cars weaving in and out of traffic or speeding across multiple lanes to try to exit off of a congested highway? If possible, leave earlier to avoid rush hour traffic, and if you must drive at those times—typically the hours between 7:00-9:00 AM and 4:00-6:00 PM—take side streets and/or plan extra time to get to your destination.
- As Metroplex drivers, we all know how to enter the turnpikes safely—turn on your blinker, speed up to match the speed of highway traffic, look for a gap between cars, and ease safely into that space. But after we’re safely on the road, many of us relax and go into autopilot. However, highway driving dictates that we pay even closer attention to the things going on around us. Don’t just look straight ahead. Rather, you should continually observe what is happening to the sides and behind your vehicle.
- Follow the posted speed limit. Granted, this is difficult to do on highways because, again, they’re designed for faster speeds. It’s even more difficult when it seems like all the cars around you are traveling at the speed of sound. But speed limits are chosen with our safety in mind. And remember, when there’s road construction, road congestion, or inclement weather, slow down below the posted speed. Always drive appropriately to conditions.
- The increased speeds allowed on highways mean an increased risk of crashing. It takes more time to slow down and stop when you’re traveling at higher speeds. Thus, you need to allow more time not only for your car’s speed to decrease but for you to react to the situation. You can do this by creating more space between your car and the vehicle in front of you. On regular streets, the National Safety Council recommends a minimum three-second following distance but on highways or in inclement weather, it is wise to increase that time to five seconds.
- When driving under normal conditions, always remember to keep right. The far-left lane is often designated “for passing only.” According to the Texas Department of Transportation, you risk a fine of up to $200 if you impede the flow of traffic in the left lane. If you move into the left lane to pass, move back into the right lane (or one of the center lanes if you’re on a multi-lane highway) as soon as you’ve safely cleared the vehicle you’re passing.
- Before changing lanes, always check your mirrors and blind spots. Highways often have slimmer lanes than other types of roads which means your car is closer to vehicles in the other lanes. To avoid colliding with a car you don’t see, look to the sides and over your shoulders into the cars back windows to be sure it’s safe.
- And don’t forget to use your blinker. When you’re not making lots of turns, it can be easy to forget about using your blinker, but it’s critical to signal your intentions to cars and trucks around you. Experts recommend that you signal 900 feet before you make a change. Especially on highways, you want to give other drivers plenty of time to give you space to merge or switch lanes.
- Take extra precautions around trucks. Traveling on a highway means you will be sharing the road with big rigs, so adjust your driving accordingly. Because trucks can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, it takes them longer to speed up, slow down, and stop. Never cut in front of a truck nor follow it too closely. And don’t forget the truck’s blind spots. A large truck has four serous blind spots—the front, back, and sides. These are the trucks “no-zones.” Stay out of the no-zones at all costs. Always remember, if you can’t see the driver in the truck’s side mirror, the driver can’t see you.
- Dealing with emergency vehicles can be tricky on a highway. It’s not always feasible to pull over and come to a complete stop. Instead, move over to the next lane and slow down 20 mph below the posted speed limit.
If you’re taking to the roadways to see friends and family this holiday weekend, be sure you get plenty of sleep the night before. Avoid driving between midnight and 6 AM, if possible. If you are traveling a long distance, get out of your car every 2 hours and stretch your legs. Try to rest 15-20 minutes during each stop. And be sure you recognize the warning signs of fatigue including yawning, tired eyes, and lane drifting. Pull over immediately if you’re fatigued and change drivers or rest until you are feeling energized again. It’s not worth the risk of trying to drive through fatigue.
If, despite all your precautions and safe driving choices, you find yourself in a car or truck wreck, contact one of our 13 Accident & Injury clinics ASAP. We’re here for you and open during our regular office hours this weekend.