The Roadmap to Safe Highway Driving

Summer driving can be one of the simple pleasures in life. There’s something relaxing about cruising down a country highway with the windows down and the music up. But as with cottage weekends and summer barbeques, the season for peaceful highway trips is once more coming to an end. Fall weather and back-to-school rushes are upon us again, and it falls to us to take extra care when driving on highways in the coming weeks.

Now that the fall has brought diminished roadway visibility and busier commutes, we’ve got a few tips for staying safe on the highways of Ontario.

Plan ahead

Driving safety starts with foresight. Bad things happen when you encounter indecision at 100km/h, so remove any potential confusion or snap decisions by planning your route beforehand. With great and easy-to-use resources like Google Maps, there’s no excuse for leaving your trip up to chance.

Speed kills, but so does slowness

The most dangerous thing about speeding often isn’t the raw velocity itself. True danger on highways lies in discrepancies between the speeds of different vehicles. Both extremely fast and extremely slow drivers pose a significant risk to road users, who expect to encounter speeds between 80 and 120km/h. This extends to on-ramps as well: this infrastructure is intended to facilitate your acceleration to 100km/h, so by the time you merge with traffic you should match their speed. Attempting to enter the highway while you’re still doing 60km/h makes you a hazardous obstacle to fellow drivers.

Conversely, trying to do highway speeds in heavy traffic can be equally dangerous to driving at city speeds in highway traffic. The signed limit may be 100km/h, but if commuter traffic has slowed the highway to 40km/h, trying to weave through at even 80km/h is reckless. When in doubt, just go with the flow of traffic and leave safe gaps – at least two seconds between cars is recommended at highway speeds.

Beware the sun

There may be more cars, but what really catches drivers off-guard this time of year is the changing light conditions. We get fewer hours of sunlight, and the sun is at a lower angle to the horizon. This creates the sensation of driving into the sun, and causes more glare than usual. The lower angle of the sun also generates more and bigger shadows on the road, which can obscure obstacles and obfuscate the roadway.

Always have a pair of sunglasses in your car, and leave extra following distance when the sun starts causing more glare. Driving predictably is more important than ever, as drivers are more easily surprised by sudden merges or changes in speed when they have so much more to be aware of.

Signal early

Signaling your intentions doesn’t serve a purpose if you only do it as you begin to turn the wheel. Your turn signals allow other drivers to prepare accordingly, by leaving extra space or by waiting until you’ve finished to conduct a merge of their own. By forgetting to signal, you can startle other drivers, or even inadvertently try to merge into the same spot. Signaling isn’t a matter of choice, so don’t overlook it.

Use the correct lane

Speeding might be illegal, but did you know that it’s also illegal to stay in the left lane (Highway Traffic Act, s. 48 (2)) any longer than it takes to pass another car? Keep traffic flowing by using the passing lane sparingly. Let the police take care of people who go to fast, and stay safe by driving in the lane that best matches your desired speed. If you do encounter a tailgater in one of the non-passing lanes, don’t react rashly. Braking can cause a collision, so gradually let your foot off the gas and wait for the other car to pass you.

Be aware of your surroundings

Not everyone will drive as safely as you. Even if you signal early, drive predictably, and leave a safe following gap, other drivers can still make highways a dangerous place. Check your mirrors constantly, and never focus on the same spot for too long. Your peripheral vision narrows during periods of fixed focus, diminishing your ability to notice hazards, or even just polite drivers signaling their intention to merge with you. There’s no need to turn your head back and forth like it’s spring-loaded, but flick your eyes to each mirror frequently to maintain 360 degrees of awareness.

Even on an empty road, fall driving conditions can make the highways a precarious place. Wet weather combined with colder air temperatures can increase stopping distances, and leaves on the road can not only cause sliding hazards, but they can also hide potholes or other obstacles.

If the worst does happen, a highway injury can change your life in an instant. The personal injury lawyers at Harris Law will investigate your case and determine your legal options to help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us to find out how we can help you get your life back on track after a traumatic accident.