Driving on the highway for the first time

11 minute read Published on May 22, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Highway with cars and a truck. Beautiful sky in background.

If you’re a first time driver, then you likely don’t have much experience driving on the highway. Driving on a highway can seem daunting at first, especially when it means travelling at higher speeds than you’re used to and having to merge into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, by reading the safe driving tips below, we’re confident that you will become a master of highway driving in no time.

7 tips for driving on the highway for the first time

Ensure a successful first trip on the highway by following the advice below:

1. Avoid driving at rush hour

For your first-ever highway trip, we recommend not driving at rush hour. Chances are, you’re already going to be overwhelmed on the highway, so don’t make it even harder on yourself by choosing to drive during the busiest time of day. Realistically, driving during rush hour traffic isn’t the best way to learn anyway, since cars will likely be travelling at a much slower pace. So our first tip if you’re driving on the highway for the first time is to time your trip wisely.

Generally speaking, if you want to avoid rush hour, it means that you will practice your highway driving sometime outside of the windows of 8:00 am to 10:00 am and 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm Monday through Friday. Weekends, especially Sundays, tend to be some of the lightest traffic days, so practicing on a Sunday morning could be a great option.

It also might help to choose a direction of traffic to practice that is less busy. For example, if most people in your area commute south to get to work at the start of the day and you want to practice your highway driving in the morning, consider a highway route that takes you north so that you will be going against traffic.

2. Begin your highway journey in the right lane and build up to the left lane

Tip number two is to begin your highway driving journey in the right lane. The right lane is considered the merge lane on a highway or freeway. The merge lane is where most on-ramps enter the highway. As a result, this lane is usually the slowest moving, which is the ideal location for a first-time highway driver. In most cases, once you merge from the right lane, you can stay in this lane until you want to exit, as exit ramps are usually also off the right lane.

This means that you won’t have to change lanes once on the highway, which, although it is an important skill, may not be necessary the very first time that you drive on a highway. Then, as your confidence builds during future highway trips, you can start practicing changing lanes into the middle lane or left lane.

Remember that the left lane is the passing lane, so you should only enter that lane once you are comfortable travelling at high speeds or passing other cars.

3. Give yourself plenty of space and time to change lanes

Tip number three is to give yourself plenty of space to change lanes. This is important when travelling on any road, but especially so on highways and especially if you’re new to highway driving. Merging onto the highway and switching lanes while on the highway is one of the most stressful parts of this type of driving - especially during a period of heavy traffic. The more traffic there is, the more difficult it can be to find an opening between cars. That said, there are a few general merging tips to learn that can help you no matter how many other cars are on the road around you.

First, when initially merging onto the highway, make sure that you accelerate to the appropriate speed so that you can reach the speed limit or the speed that the other cars on the highway are travelling at if it’s less than the speed limit. Believe it or not, merging at a slow speed can be dangerous on the highway, as it may cause other drivers to slam on the brakes, which increases the odds of a collision. In addition, while merging onto the highway from the right lane, check your side mirror regularly and look over your shoulder to check your blind spot before merging to make sure that it is safe to do so. You should also ensure that your indicator is on so that other drivers know what you intend to do.

The same general rules apply when changing lanes on the highway. Use your side mirrors and rearview mirror, check your blind spots, and turn on your signal anytime you are changing lanes, whether you are moving left or right. Further, as a rule of thumb, always employ the defensive driving measure of yielding to other drivers who are trying to merge or change lanes in front of you. Do not assume that another driver will yield to you or that you have the right of way. This is an easy way to end up in a collision.

4. Maintain a safe distance from the vehicles in front of you

Maintaining a safe distance from other cars around you is another tip for first-time highway drivers. The more space that you give yourself, the more time you will have to react to a situation on the road. For example, if you haven’t left much space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you and the driver suddenly brakes, you might not have enough time to stop before crashing into that car. However, if you have given yourself ample space, stopping - even if you need to do so suddenly - shouldn’t be a problem.

How much distance should you maintain between yourself and the vehicle in front of you? Experts generally recommend the three-second rule. This means keeping no less than three seconds’ worth of space between your car and the one ahead. To measure this, you must first choose an object ahead of you, such as a road lamp or overpass. When the vehicle in front of you reaches that object, start counting. If your car reaches the object before you count to three, then you’re following too closely and should slow down. However, if you count to three or beyond three, then you are following at a safe distance.

Please note that if road conditions are adverse, such as you are driving at night or in rain, snow, or fog, then you may want to increase the distance. The higher the speed you are travelling at, the more distance you should give yourself.

5. Stay focused and limit distractions

Staying focused and limiting distractions is another important tip. Given that distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents in North America, doing what you can to minimize your odds of getting into an accident for this reason is incredibly important. In order to do so, let’s consider a few common examples of distracted driving:

  • Texting or using your cell phone
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Applying makeup
  • Talking on the phone
  • Changing the radio
  • Setting the GPS
  • Adjusting climate controls, e.g. heat and air conditioning

Thus, in order to stay safe on the highway, you must avoid engaging in any of the behaviours listed above. There are many ways that you can be proactive about avoiding distractions. You can turn your phone on “do not disturb” mode or pop it in the backseat while you’re driving. You can also make sure that you eat or drink before getting behind the wheel. Similarly, setting the radio, programming your GPS, or turning on your car’s AC system can also be done before you pull out of the driveway.

In addition to avoiding distractions, take steps to remain focused on the road. For example, scan the road ahead of you for other cars, pedestrians, and potential hazards. Similarly, you should also glance in your side and rearview mirrors regularly to ensure you’re aware of what’s going on around you. Specifically, it’s a good idea to look for brake lights and signals, as these lights will give you an idea of other drivers’ intentions.

As you probably already know, travelling at high speeds and in close proximity to other cars increases your risk level. All it takes is a split-second mistake to put yourself in a dangerous situation. Be sure to remember that the next time that you consider driving recklessly or when you think of shooting off a quick text while driving.

6. Never drive while fatigued or impaired

Never drive anywhere, including the highway, while fatigued or impaired. This is an important rule to remember, whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned veteran. Impaired driving, e.g. driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is illegal. Drunk driving is also a criminal offence in Canada, which means you could face jail time if you are caught driving while impaired.

In addition, driving while fatigued or drowsy is another no-no. Driving while tired is another leading cause of accidents. Never get behind the wheel if you are too tired to drive. If you grow tired while driving, pull over and rest until you feel alert enough to drive again. You can also try drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage to give yourself some energy. Another preventative measure for fatigued driving is to get the recommended amount of sleep each night so that you have more energy when you wake up and drive to work in the morning.

Ultimately, no matter if you are driving on the highway or a residential road, do not drive while fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

7. Do not drive on the highway in adverse weather conditions

Our seventh and final tip for driving on the highway for the first time is to avoid doing so in adverse weather conditions. In fact, avoiding driving anytime in inclement weather is a good rule to follow, but it’s especially important when you’re a new driver.

Check the forecast before leaving home to ensure that you are driving in suitable weather. We even recommend checking the hourly forecast to make sure that there are no weather changes on the horizon. For example, snow storms, rain storms, or even fog can make driving far less safe. Generally speaking, the first ten minutes after heavy rain or snowfall begins is the most dangerous time for highway driving. This is because the roads tend to be the most slippery at this time, as oil from travelling vehicles mixes with the water on the road to reduce traction.

Ideally, if you are driving for the first time on the highway, choose a day without any precipitation. If you ever find yourself driving on a highway in inclement weather, take it slow. It’s alright to drive below the speed limit in poor weather. In fact, it’s recommended significantly when brake times are increased and visibility is reduced.

The harsh reality of highway collisions

Although road accidents may be more likely to occur, the severity of collisions tends to be higher on highways. This means that highway accidents are more likely to cause major damage to your car, as well as serious injury to any drivers or passengers involved. Fatalities may also be more common with highway collisions. For this reason, driving safely and practicing good driver habits while on the highway is of the utmost importance. Travelling at higher speeds comes with more responsibility, and you must be prepared to take on that responsibility when driving on highways. A few of the most common types of injuries that may arise from highway collisions include:

  • Whiplash
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Back and neck injuries
  • Facial injuries
  • Internal injuries
  • Psychological injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries

Car insurance after a highway car accident

Whether you hit an animal on the highway or got into a collision with another vehicle after forgetting to check your blind spot, having auto insurance will help.

Car insurance is a legal requirement everywhere in Canada, which means you will not be allowed to get behind the wheel without it. The good news is that car insurance has all kinds of benefits - namely, it protects you financially if you get into collisions.

After first getting into a collision, take care to report the car accident. You can do this by calling 9-1-1 or your local law enforcement agency. A police officer will arrive on the scene and file a report, which can then be used as evidence in your claim. Before leaving the scene, we also recommend taking detailed notes and snapping several photos and videos, which can also be used as evidence.

The next step after getting into a highway collision is to file a claim with your insurance provider. As mentioned, car insurance policies offer financial security, so if you don’t want to have to pay for the cost of the damage out of pocket, you will need to file a car insurance claim. Remember that calling your insurance company after a minor car accident is still worthwhile. The circumstances surrounding the accident will dictate what type of claim you file.

For example, if you are found to be liable for a car accident, then you will file a third-party liability car insurance claim, which could help pay for legal fees, repair bills, medical fees, and more. The liability claim would pay for the damage incurred by the other party involved in the accident. If you have collision car insurance, then you might also need to file this type of claim to receive a payout that covers any repairs that need to be made to your car, if applicable. Collision insurance can also pay for the cost of repairs after colliding with an animal or a grounded object.

However, if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident on the highway or you get into an accident with an at-fault driver who is uninsured, then the type of claim you would file would be an uninsured automobile insurance claim. This type of coverage pays for the costs of an accident, including repair and medical bills, if a policyholder gets into an accident with an uninsured, underinsured, or anonymous driver.

Meanwhile, if you are involved in an accident that is your first at-fault accident and you have accident forgiveness coverage, then you might be eligible to file a claim under this portion of your policy. Accident forgiveness is additional coverage that can be added to your car insurance policy as an endorsement to protect your driving record and to help prevent your insurance premium from increasing if you have an at-fault accident claim. Note: coverage and eligibility vary by province.

Ultimately, if you get into a collision, whether on the highway or a regular road, contact an insurance broker right away. We can offer you advice on how to file an insurance claim and explain what type or types of coverage will come into play.

Get in touch with BrokerLink for more highway driving tips

If you want more tips on how to navigate the highway safely, reach out to BrokerLink today. A licensed insurance advisor can offer professional advice on how to drive on the highway while also explaining how car insurance will protect you should the worst-case scenario occur.

For example, there are many types of auto insurance that may come into play if you find yourself in a highway car accident. They may include:

Some of these insurance coverages are mandatory in Canada, while some are optional. A BrokerLink insurance advisor will make sure that you have the mandatory coverage so that you comply with local laws in your province. However, they can also recommend additional coverages if you want extra protection on the road.

Are you ready to learn more about car insurance, including how much car insurance costs? Get in touch with BrokerLink today. We can provide you with a free auto insurance quote that is both accurate and reliable. Contact us over the phone, in person, or visit our website to obtain your free car insurance quote now.

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