If you are a new driver in Atlanta, the thought of getting on the highway probably terrifies you. Maybe you have seen one accident too many strewn out across two or three lanes. You may have experienced one yourself. Your fear is not unfounded. Atlanta’s I285 is the deadliest in the entire country, and since the same drivers frequent all the other highways, there’s no denying the dangers inherent there too.
I took the back roads for ten months before deciding one morning that I would take the highway in to work. The only reason I felt determined to tackle the interstate is in preparation for a cross-country trip next year. For you, it may just be easier to get to work. Or, maybe you’re tired of family and friends laughing at the fact that it takes you an extra 10 to 15 minutes to get everywhere. I’ve been there.
In part two of this ongoing driver series, I gave some general tips to help keep us all safe on the roads:
All of these are also applicable to highway driving. Though the highways terrified me at first, once I established a few additional ground rules, I lost all fear associated with it. I now tackle Atlanta’s infamous rush-hour traffic and drunk-hour speed demons in their Dodge Chargers with ease. Here are some of the rules I follow that you may find useful.
1. Mind Your Speed
According to the Georgia Drivers Manual, the speed limit on the highway can range from 55 MPH to 70 MPH. Some highways have minimum speed limits, which tend to be 40 MPH. However, when driving on the highway, you will find that the flow of traffic better dictates the speed limit you should follow.
According to Georgia Law, slower traffic should keep right. You will see this posted on the highway if you’re not panicking and gripping the steering wheel for dear life. You should certainly keep right, but stay out of the right-most lane until you are within a mile or so of your exit.
2. Avoid Exiting By Accident
When I first started driving, the advice everyone gave me was to stay in the right lane so I won’t miss my exit. People who tell you this have either never driven in Atlanta or are so used to the highways that they don’t notice how often they need to move left to stay right. I’ll explain.
Recently, one of my friends from New York came to visit. I challenged her to count how many times I had to move over to the left to avoid exiting on I75/I85. She was flabbergasted when we arrived at the hiking trail I had chosen and said, “Five!” Here are the two main problems with staying in the right lane:
- You might realize at the last minute that you need to get over and cause an accident.
- You might exit the highway by mistake or end up on a completely different one.
3. Keep 3rd From the Right
Okay, so the right lane is obviously problematic. But, why not stay in the one right next to it? There are several reasons for this. The right lane often turns into a filter lane from another highway or a ramp, which may merge directly into your lane. Are you prepared for that? Secondly, the second-from-the-right lane often becomes an exit lane itself, forcing you to move over again, often with only a 1000-foot headsup.
Finally, and this is the most important one, another driver may swing into your car. If this seems like a random consequence, I’ll explain. Remember in the second tip where I explained that you might cause an accident by trying to get out of the exit lane? Every time I stay in the lane next to the exit lane, people swerve into me to avoid unintentionally exiting the highway at the last minute. Spare your nerves by staying another lane over.
4. Signs Design Lane Position
Now that you understand why the third from the right lane is probably your safest bet, you might be annoyed to learn there is more to picking a lane than just this. In the point above, I mentioned that the second-from-the-right lane also often turns into an exit lane. Before you know it, you are in the right lane again and have no idea how you got there.
This is because highways split and combine in Atlanta at various points. You will come across multiple forks and you must be on the correct side of the highway when this happens. Google gives a heads-up, but may only say “stay left” or “keep right”. When an eight-lane highway is about to split, this doesn’t tell you much. How far left is left enough?
This is where the signs come in. Here are the main ones that will help you:
- The green road signs overhead will tell you with arrows what lanes will keep you on what highway and when they split into exits, as you get closer.
- On the highway itself, you will see EXIT warnings on the road in white lettering. This is usually an EXIT ONLY warning or a heads-up that the exit is in 1000 feet.
- Look at the broken white lines on the road. When the highway is about to fork, one white line becomes more pronounced to separate the left from the right. This will help you to decide where the highway will split and therefore what side you need to be on.
5. Beware of Trucks
When I decided to take defensive driving classes to lower my new-driver car insurance premium, my family members rolled their eyes at me. I paid them no mind. My instructor was the wife of a truck driver and the things she told us about truck drivers, I will never forget. Writing for law firms that focus on truck accidents only further engraved the most common ways truck-car accidents happen in my mind.
Here are the basics of what you need to know when it comes to sharing the highway with 18-wheelers:
- Treat every truck driver as if they are blind, deaf and sleeping at the wheel. The main thing this should stop you from doing is cutting in front of a truck. It should also discourage you from staying in front of them in traffic if you can.
- Do not make sudden stops in front of a truck. Unfortunately, this may be unavoidable as there’s no telling what hazards you might encounter on the road. The problem is that even if the driver sees you, the size of trucks makes it difficult for them to stop as quickly as you do, so they may hit you anyway. This is why I do not drive in front of them if I can help it.
- Always yield to truck drivers on the highway. Do not try to speed past them when they want to come over into your lane. They are bigger and they may not see you, especially at night. You do not want to be side-swiped by a truck anymore than you want a fender-bender with one.
It may sound morbid, but these are not conscious thoughts when I encounter a truck on the road. My driving habits regarding them are just subconscious reflexes, but I have not forgotten where they came from.
These are the main groundrules I have established that help to keep me out of trouble on the highway. Because accidents are unavoidable, I installed a dash cam so I can prove my innocence to my insurance company, if need be. On that note, for the next post, I will cover the five accessories you should get for your car and why.