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11- Freeway Driving

Drivers Icon Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Goal: Teach your teen freeway basics and how to safely enter and exit a freeway.
Location: Start on a multi-lane freeway with easily accessible exits, at a time when traffic is light, such as a weekend morning. Move on to practice at heavier traffic times when your teen is ready.

Lesson one – observation

There is plenty of time to merge. If a gap doesn’t present itself immediately, adjust your speed in order to find one.

Worthy of repetition

Practice merging and exiting 10–12 times each, or more if needed for your teen to feel comfortable. Keep coaching your teen that constant awareness and looking ahead are the keys to learning to drive safely.

Before your teen gets behind the wheel on the freeway, have your teen spend some time on freeways with you as the driver and your teen as the passenger. Emphasize the importance of looking ahead to anticipate potential problems, and explain key freeway features, such as:

  • The different kinds of interchanges
  • The meanings of freeway signs and signals
  • The meanings of different lane lines and markings
  • Entrance area: This stretch allows the driver time to search the freeway and evaluate how much space they have to enter and what speed is needed.
  • Acceleration area: The driver brings the vehicle up to the speed of freeway traffic flow.
  • Merge area: The driver uses this space to merge into the traffic flow.

Lesson two – merging onto a freeway

  • Check for on-ramp speed signs.
  • At the entrance area, make quick glances at the freeway, scanning for vehicles and entry gaps.
  • In the acceleration area, signal to show intent to enter the freeway and adjust speed to match the traffic flow.
  • In the merge area, enter the flow of traffic, checking mirrors and blind spots.
  • Turn off the turn signal and begin looking ahead to anticipate problems or upcoming lane changes.
  • Do not completely stop in the entrance area unless absolutely necessary.

Lesson three – exiting a freeway

  • Identify the exit well ahead of time.
  • Scan traffic for problems when approaching the exit, but don’t slow down on the freeway.
  • Start to signal four to six seconds before reaching the ramp.
  • Upon entering the ramp, tap the brakes and begin rapidly reducing speed.
  • Slow down to the posted exit ramp speed limit before reaching the curve.

Lesson four – steering technique

For the first several lane changes you may need to talk your teen through the decision-making process. Double-check all mirrors to make sure that the lane is clear.

Once on the freeway, coach your teen on steering technique. At fast freeway speeds, excessive steering can be dangerous and lead to loss of control. Remind your teen to steer gently on freeways.

Lesson five – lane changing

In the high-speed, complex freeway environment, lane-changing skills are very important. Have your teen spend several miles practicing the lane-changing and passing skills previously learned in “Skill nine: multi-lane roads,” until they are comfortable performing them at freeway speeds.

Remind your teen to:

  • Watch for merging vehicles and move one lane left to make space for them when needed.
  • Change lanes one at a time only.
  • Watch mirrors for tailgaters and move to another lane to let them pass.
  • If your teen is having trouble maintaining consistent lane position, encourage them to look further down the road.

Lesson six – three-second rule

Review the three-second rule for following distance, learned in “Skill six: looking ahead.” Additionally, coach your teen to use a three-second rule for these freeway driving circumstances:

  • Merging onto a freeway
  • Changing lanes
  • Exiting a freeway

Lesson seven – challenging road conditions

Coach your teen to adjust travel speed and vehicle position based on weather and road conditions. Once your teen is comfortable with and proficient at freeway driving in good conditions, spend some practice time on freeways under more challenging conditions, such as rain. Coach them to always use appropriate caution, as conditions can change quickly.

Consider planning some short day trips with your teen to a destination two to three hours away. Have them drive there and back. Find an event or place that you will both enjoy and have fun.

Focal point

Early in the training process, parental instruction tends to focus on vehicle handling. As your teen’s skills improve, try to focus on “higher order” instruction, such as scanning ahead, hazard detection, and anticipating the other driver’s behavior.