Surviving the Superhighway Free-For-All

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 12, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I recently took a cross-country trip, and drove on many different types of roads, from switchbacks in national parks to five- and six-lane highways. Those multilane highways were the scariest. Are there any guidelines out there for how to drive safely on these monsters? Is the topic covered in the newer drivers' manuals, or is it just the free-for-all it appears to be?

-- Virginia

It's pretty much a free-for-all, Virginia.

There are rules, but not everyone pays attention to them. You've got weavers, and pass-on-the-righters, and "Oh, #$8@, that's my exit"-ers. What makes these roads most difficult is when you drive in areas of dense population, where there are multilane feeders coming onto the highways, and multilane exits leaving the highway on all sides. You can be in one of the right lanes, minding your own business, and suddenly you're in an exit-only lane heading east to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

So our best advice is to pick one of the lanes in the middle, move along with the speed of traffic, and try to anticipate your exit early enough to get over to the right safely. Using Google Maps or a built-in GPS can help you anticipate merges and exits. Or it can direct you to non-freeway routes if you're really uncomfortable on them and don't feel safe. But there's nothing we can do to stop people from sliding in and out of your lane on a highway as they look to get home 0.4 minutes earlier.

Looking to the future -- and even the present -- self-driving technologies probably are the ultimate answer. Even now, you can get things like adaptive cruise control, which will speed up and slow down your car to maintain a set distance from the car in front of you. You also can get lane-departure warning, to let you know when you're drifting out of your lane, and blind-spot monitoring, to help you change lanes more safely. And that trend will continue, until you'll be able to get on the highway, set the car on "drive me," and watch "The Fast and the Furious 8" on the screen that drops down from your visor.

Until then, find a spot in a middle lane, move at the speed of traffic and remember to breathe, Virginia.


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