Table of Contents


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Driving in Traffic

As you learn to drive in traffic, we will be referring to earlier modules, particularly modules 7 (which discusses defensive driving) and 9 (which looks at driving environments). What is your most important tool for driving? If you answered "vision," you would be correct. You must always be scanning the road, but not just in front of you. Also scan the sidewalks, parked cars and the vehicles you are following to help you be prepared for potential hazards before they develop.

An image of a traffic as seen through a rearview mirror

When scanning the road while driving, don't forget to check your mirrors.

Remember to scan the road about 12 to 15 seconds ahead when driving. This is about one to two blocks in the city at normal speeds. On the freeway, scan about 20 to 30 seconds (1/3 to 1/2 mile) ahead. Your practice sessions should be about one hour each. Practice driving on quiet city streets before you try busier streets. Continue until you feel comfortable before trying freeways. The higher speed can be unnerving if you are not ready. Use the scanning techniques discussed in module 7 (the Smith System and SIPDE).

Entering Traffic

There are basically two ways you can enter traffic: from the curb side and from a parking lot.

When entering from the curb side, you should:

  1. Signal for a left turn because you will be pulling left from the right curb.
  2. Check traffic around you (rear, sides and front). Look for a gap of about half a block in traffic.
  3. Look as far ahead as possible in the lane you will be entering. This will help you determine the appropriate speed.
  4. Accelerate smoothly while checking traffic on your left and steer into the lane.
  5. Turn off your signal. You should now be scanning ahead of traffic. Stay with the flow of traffic, but don't go above the speed limit or more than 5 mph slower.

When entering from a parking lot, you should:

  1. Signal for a turn and check traffic around you (rear, sides and front).
  2. You want a gap of about half a block in traffic before you enter. If turning right, that gap should be about 6 to 8 seconds. If turning right, you have to check for traffic in both directions. Look for a gap in traffic on the left of about 6 to 8 seconds; for traffic on the right, the gap should be about 7 to 9 seconds.
  3. Look as far ahead as possible in the lane you are entering to determine the appropriate speed.
  4. Accelerate smoothly and steer into the lane while checking for traffic.
  5. Turn off your signal. You should now be scanning ahead of traffic. Stay with the flow of traffic, but don't go above the speed limit or more than 5 mph slower.

To enter traffic from a driveway or intersection, use the same procedure for entering from a parking lot.

Establishing a Following Distance

Always be sure to keep your distance. Maintain a three-second following distance on city streets. Once you are ready to drive on the freeway, add another second to your following distance. Do you remember how to set a three-second following distance? Look for a fixed object on the side of the road. It can be anything - a sign, a tree, a fire extinguisher - as long as it does not move. Begin counting after the car you are following has passed this point. Slow down a little if you can't finish your count before passing the point yourself. When traffic slows to a stop, you want to stop where you can see the back of the tires. This will give you room to see the road up ahead.

Changing Lanes

Changing lanes can sometimes be tricky for novice drivers because they tend to drift in the direction they are looking. You want to keep driving straight ahead and maintain the three-second following distance until you are ready to make a lane change. When you are ready, you should do the following:

  1. Check traffic around you (rear, sides and front).
  2. Look for a gap of 4 to 5 seconds in traffic.
  3. Activate your turn signal (do this at least 100 feet before you make the lane change).
  4. Check your mirrors (rear-view then your side mirrors).
  5. Check traffic ahead of you again. You want to be sure you still have your three-second following distance. If you're too close, slow down.
  6. Look over your shoulder to check your blind spots. Be sure other drivers aren't trying to merge into the same space.
  7. If it's clear, steer into the new lane. Do this while looking ahead in your new lane and maintain your speed.
  8. Turn off the signal.

Driving at Night

When you are ready to practice night driving, refer to module 10. Remember that you need to practice for at least 10 hours at night, but don't drive any later than 10 p.m.

Making Turns

An image of a car making a turn

Always check for traffic when making a turn.

A turn is a common maneuver at intersections. Although a turn may seem easy to perform, it is actually more complicated than it appears because you need to consider others who use the road. When making a turn, you must be able to judge three very important things:

  • The total time it will take to complete the maneuver.
  • The speed of any oncoming traffic.
  • The distance of any oncoming traffic.

After judging these three things, you should be able to choose a traffic gap that will allow you to cross safely. Knowing the laws and right-of-way rules will also help you to turn safely.

Important Steps in Making a Good Turn

  1. Make up your mind before you get to the turning point. Never wait until the last minute to make your decision. It is dangerous to turn when you do not give enough notice to other drivers.
  2. Always scan the road ahead for hazards, and be cautious of other vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and animals.
  3. Look behind you and check both sides to see where other vehicles are before you move into position to make a turn.
  4. Move into the proper lane as quickly as possible. Make sure you are completely in the proper lane at least 100 feet or 1/2 block before you turn.
  5. The faster traffic is moving, the sooner you should move into this lane. If you cannot get into the proper lane within this distance, you should not attempt to make your turn. Simply continue straight ahead and turn at the next street.
  6. Signal your intention to turn at least 100 feet on a city road (or 300 feet on a freeway) before making the turn. If using a hand signal, hold it until you are close enough to the intersection for others to know your intention. Put both hands on the steering wheel once you cross the limit line so you can make the turn.
  7. Slow down when approaching the turn and release the brake and clutch during the turn.
  8. Remain in the proper lane and maintain the same speed at the beginning and throughout the turn.
  9. Finish the turn in the proper lane first before you consider changing into another lane. Be sure not to turn too wide. If you need to change lanes, stay in the lane you turned in for at least 150 feet before changing lanes. Remember to turn off your turn signal.

Using Hand Signals

What if your car's turn signals don't work? Shouting your intent every time is probably not a good idea. For one thing, your throat will become parched, especially if you are not used to screaming so much. Also, not everyone will hear you. The best alternative is to use your arms. To signal a left turn, just extend your left arm outward. Point your left arm upward to signal a right turn, as if you were raising your arm in class. Move it downward when you want to indicate that you are slowing down or stopping. The graphics below should help make this clear.

An image of the three types of turn signals

This graphic depicts hand signals for turning.

You may make a right turn, left turn, or U-turn at intersections unless signs are posted prohibiting a specific type of turn. These turns are described in the following sections.

Making Right Turns

Right turns seem simple enough, but crashes do occur. A common example is when a driver turns right but too wide and collides into an opposing vehicle making a left hand turn into his or her lane. When making a right turn, you should complete you turn in the lane that is first accessible or the one furthest to the right.

Turning on Red - You may always turn right on a red light from a dead stop unless there is a sign prohibiting it, but you must complete the maneuver in the right or slow lane, keeping close to the curb at all times. You must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic proceeding as directed by the signal at the intersection.

If traffic is stopped at an intersection, and you are several cars back, you may travel along the right curb in order to make a right turn, but only if it is safe to do so. If the space next to the curb is set aside for parking or there is no pavement, you may not travel along the right. You may travel in a bicycle lane to make a right turn, but you must yield to any bicycles using the lane.

Right Turn Lanes - If you are in a lane that allows you to proceed with a right turn or straight on the road, and the lane to the right is marked "right turn only," you have the option to turn right on a red light. If you are in the "right turn only" lane, however, you must proceed with the right turn after the lines dividing the lane on the left side change from broken to solid. Once the solid bold line appears, changing lanes out of the "right turn only" lane would be illegal, even if no other vehicles are present.

How to Make a Safe Right Turn

An image of how to make a right turn
  1. Signal for a lane change well ahead of the turning point (approximately 200-300 ft.) and check the road prior to turning. When it is safe and you are at least 100 feet away from the intersection, move your vehicle to the far right lane, flashing your brake lights to warn other drivers of your plan to change lanes.
  2. Check all signals and road signs, and start slowing down at least 100 ft. from the corner of the intersection.
  3. Look both ways before starting to turn.
  4. Keep as close as possible to the right edge of the road (within three to five ft. from the curb). Slowly accelerate and turn with both hands on the wheel using the hand-over-hand method while checking the traffic flow. Enter the lane that is closest to the right edge of the road.
  5. If you are at a stop sign or red signal, stop prior to the crosswalk before continuing with your turn.

Making Left Turns

Left turns tend to be dangerous and require extra caution due to conflict with oncoming vehicles traveling at high speeds, changing signals, pedestrians utilizing the crosswalk, and limited visibility due to large vehicles, trucks or other obstructions. These turns must be made from the left hand lane on your side of the road. You may make a left turn from one intersecting street to another on a green light, completing the turn in the lane to the right of the centerline, or the same lane you began at when you started to turn.

Avoiding Conflict with Other Vehicles - If you are making a left turn at the same time another driver is making a right turn onto the same street, you must yield the right-of-way to the other driver. You may make a left turn on a red light from a one-way street to another one-way street unless otherwise posted. Don't make a left turn against oncoming traffic unless you are given the right-of-way by a green arrow, which signifies unobstructed use of the road. Regardless of the situation, you should still proceed with caution.

Two-Way Left Turn Lane (Center Turn Lane) - This lane, located in the center of busy streets, is painted with solid yellow outside lines and dashed yellow lines on the inside of the lane. You may enter this lane to begin or complete a left turn only. You may proceed in this lane for a limited amount of time. If you enter the lane after making a left turn from a side street, you may travel up to 50 feet before you must merge with traffic. If you are preparing to make a left turn from the lane, you may travel up to 200 feet. When the two-way left turn lane ends into a regular left turn lane, you may transition from the two-way lane into the regular lane and continue driving for an indefinite length of time.

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This animation depicts a two-way left turn lane.

Multiple Left Turn Lanes - Many streets have more than one lane from which you are able to turn left. This does present a problem for many drivers because they often cross into the other lane. If you are turning from the left-turn lane on the left, you must turn into the left lane that is right of the yellow dividing line. If you are turning from the left-turn lane on the right, you must enter the street in the right lane next to the curb. Most multiple left-turn lanes have directional arrows to guide your turn and keep you in the proper lane.

How to make a safe left turn

An image of how to make a left turn
  1. Signal for a lane change well ahead of the turning point, and when it is safe and you are at least 100 ft. away from the intersection, move to the lane next to the center lane dividing line(s).
  2. Start slowing down at least 100 ft. from the corner of the intersection.
  3. Look right and left before starting to turn, and beware of all signals and signs. Stay to the right of the center dividing line(s) as you enter the intersection. Yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.
  4. Complete the turn to the right of the centerline of the road into which you are turning by entering the lane closest to the middle of the cross street.

Examples of Right and Left Turns

The animations in this section show you the proper way to turn in each situation. The numbers that are next to the vehicles refer to the numbered sentences below.

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This animation depicts left and right turns at a four-way intersection.

1. Left turn from a two-way street.
Start the turn at the left hand edge of the lane closest to the middle of the street. You must complete the turn in the lane to the right of the centerline of the cross street (see car #1). You must use a left turn lane if there is one. A left turn from the next lane may be made if signs or arrows show it is okay. If you are allowed to turn from another lane, complete your turn into the corresponding lane on the other street.

2. Right turn.
Begin the turn in the lane nearest the right-hand curb (see car #2). End the turn in the lane nearest the right-hand curb. Do not swing wide into another lane of traffic. You may start a right turn from other than the far right lane only where pavement or overhead markings show that using that lane for a right turn is permitted.

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This animation depicts left turns to and from a one-way street.

3. Left turn from a two-way street into a one-way street.
Start the turn from the far left-hand portion of your side of the road. You must turn into the lane that is closest to the left-hand curb (see car #3).

4. Left turn from a one-way street into a two-way street.
Start the turn from the far left-hand portion of your side of the road. You must turn into the lane that is closest to the centerline (see car #4).

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This animation depicts left and right turns on a one-way street.

5. Left turn from a one-way street into a one-way street.
You must start the turn from the left hand portion of the road and complete it in the left hand portion of the cross street (see car #5). Watch for bicycles between your vehicle and the curb because they can legally use the left turn lane for their left turns.

6. Right turn from a one-way street into a one-way street.
Start your turn in the far right lane and complete the turn in the lane closest to the curb (see car #6). Sometimes signs or pavement markings will let you turn right from a lane next to the far right lane. If you are allowed to turn from another lane, complete your turn into the corresponding lane on the other street.

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This animation depicts left and right turns from a one-way street at a "T" intersection.

7. Turn at a "T" intersection from a one-way street into a two-way street.
Through traffic has the right-of-way. You may turn either right or left from the center lane. Watch for vehicles and bicycles inside your turn.

Making U-Turns

An image of cars

Learn how to handle your car properly and safely so you can drive for a long time!

The turnabout, or U-turn, is perhaps the most dangerous type of turn you can make. This is because you must consider several things when making this turn: the position of your vehicle, turning radius, the width of the road, cross traffic in both directions, opposing traffic, any pedestrians or bicyclists crossing the road in your path, and traffic signals. Try to drive around the block instead, if possible.

Unless a "No U-turn" sign is posted, a U-turn is legal at all times in an intersection. A U-turn is legal in the middle of the block only in a residential district, and not in a business district. Apartments, churches and schools would designate an area a business district, as would an area where more than 50% of the buildings are businesses.

Avoid the U-turn when you are on a curve in the road, when you are approaching the crest of a grade, or at any other time you cannot see approaching vehicles from either direction within 500 feet (one block). These are dangerous because you may not be able to see oncoming vehicles.

How to make a safe U-turn

  1. Scan ahead for an appropriate place to make the U-turn. Look for signs that prohibit U-turns. If there aren't any, and the road is wide enough for the turn, you may make the maneuver if you can do it safely.
  2. Signal for a lane change well ahead of the turning point, and when it is safe and you are at least 100 ft. away from the intersection, move to the far left lane next to the center lane dividing line(s).
  3. Start slowing down at least 100 ft. from the corner of the intersection.
  4. Look right and left for any oncoming traffic, such as oncoming vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, before beginning the turn. You must have an unobstructed view of at least 500 feet (one block) in all directions. Make sure you have enough room to complete the turn without hitting the curb or other vehicles. Also watch for any signals and signs.
  5. After you yield to traffic, gently press the accelerator while turning the steering wheel to the left as far as it goes. Keep your speed low during the turn.
  6. Complete the turn by straightening your wheels once you are in a lane. You are now ready to continue in the other direction.

Three-Point Turns

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This animation depicts the steps to make a successful three-point turn.

Sometimes the road is too narrow for you to make a simple U-turn. If you need to turn back in the other direction, you have a number of options. The safest would be to turn around the block. You can also wait until you reach an intersection to make a U-turn. Another alternative is to perform a three-point turn, which is a set of three turns that includes backing up. You should use a three-point turn only if you have mastered certain skills. If you can maneuver your vehicle safely while backing up and judge spacing with few problems, you can attempt this maneuver. Do not try a three-point turn on busy streets.

How to make a safe three-point turn on a narrow street

  1. Signal for a right, pull over to the right, and stop. Check carefully for approaching traffic in both directions and signal for a left.
  2. When traffic is clear, make your first turn. Turn left across the road and stop before you hit the left curb or edge of road.
  3. Check again for traffic, signal for a right and shift to reverse to prepare for your second turn. Turn your steering wheel all the way to the right and back slowly, making sure to look through your rear window.
  4. When the vehicle is straight in the lane, straighten your wheels for your third turn, and stop. The third turn in reality is just going straight ahead, but you still need to turn your steering wheel. Shift to drive check for any oncoming traffic. Move forward smoothly and cancel your signal. If you cannot go straight ahead without hitting the curb or edge of road, repeat steps 2 to 4 as needed.

Using an Alley or Driveway

If there is an alley or driveway, you can use that to help you make a three-point turn. The procedures for using an alley or driveway on the left are similar to the above except that you should clear the curb or edge of the road and go into the alley or driveway and instead of stopping there. If backing into an alley or driveway on the right, do the following:

  1. Signal for a right turn 100 feet in advance. Be sure to check for traffic. When it is safe, stop just beyond the alley or driveway and shift into reverse.
  2. Back slowly while you look through the rear window until your vehicle's rear bumper reaches the near edge of the alley or driveway.
  3. Turn your steering wheel all the way to the right and continue to back slowly into the alley or driveway.
  4. Straighten the wheels when your vehicle is straight in the alley or driveway and stop when you clear the curb or edge of the road.
  5. Signal for a left and shift to drive, making sure to check for traffic again.
  6. When it is clear and safe, make your left turn.

Journal Question

WHAT DO YOU THINK? There are three basic types of turns you can make with your car. Of the three (right turn, left turn and U-turn), which do you think is the easiest to make? What makes it safer compared to the other types of turns? Consider these before you answer: how you would be interacting with other drivers; pedestrians and bicycles; visibility.

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