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Most Nevadans live in the urban areas in and around Las Vegas and Reno. This can create crowded roadways - and headaches - as you try to navigate through traffic. You must slow down when driving in the city due to the increased traffic and road congestion. But that's not all you should watch out for on the streets. You also need to look out for pedestrians, bicyclists and parked cars. General precautions to take include:
Reducing Your Speed
When you drive at high speeds, you will have very little time, if any, to react to traffic changes in a safe manner. Slowing down will allow you more time to see and recognize potential conflicts, anticipate possible outcomes, decide the best course of action, and act on them. Therefore you should avoid speeding, which means staying under the posted limit.
Looking Ahead of Traffic
Looking ahead for traffic hazards or conditions will help you to assess the best way to handle a situation. Leave enough distance between yourself and the car ahead so you can respond to situations safely. Be alert for signal changes, especially green lights that have not changed for a while (these are known as "stale green lights"). Chances are these lights will turn red soon, so don't be caught off-guard. Prepare to stop as you approach by covering your brakes.
Passing in the City
Most city streets have a center line dividing opposing traffic. Never drive to the left of that line or cross over it to pass, unless it is a broken line. Many roadways have a center left turn lane that allows traffic in both directions to make a left turn. These lanes are for drivers making or completing left turns or U-turns, if those are permitted; they are not for passing. It is also dangerous and illegal to pass within 100 feet of an intersection. You may be moving into another vehicle instead of an empty space.
Choosing a Lane of Travel
The lane you choose to travel upon depends on your speed and whether you plan to turn or go straight ahead. If turning left, drive in the left lane. Use the right lane if making a right turn or if you are slower than surrounding traffic. Scanning ahead will, in most cases, help you determine the least congested lane. The lane with the smoothest flow of traffic is usually the center lane on a roadway with at least three lanes in the direction you are traveling.
Positioning Your Vehicle
Once you have chosen a lane in which to travel, remain completely inside until you make a lane change. Observe any posted speed limit so you can keep up with the flow of traffic. Going too fast or slow may be hazardous, and try to never travel in other drivers' BLIND SPOTS. In other words, avoid side-by-side driving, and try to avoid driving in packs of cars. Although you may feel secure traveling in packs, it's actually more dangerous. It leaves you with no escape routes in case of an emergency.
Choosing a Safe Route
The quickest, shortest route to your destination may not necessarily be the safest. When choosing the best route for you, consider the time of day and the streets you will use. Try to avoid driving during periods of heavy traffic, such as rush hour. If that is not possible, at least get to know side streets or alternate routes that you can use to avoid congestion, which is common on through (main) streets. One-way streets are typically safer, so if you have a choice, use those instead. Although you'll be able to avoid oncoming traffic, you must ensure that you are going in the right direction!
It is critical that you understand the meanings of different lane markings. As discussed in Module 3, lane and roadway markings indicate prohibited actions and communicate important information to you as a driver. Please watch the following video.
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Dealing with Challenges on City Streets
You should be alert for hazards even though speeds are lower on city streets. If you keep your driving speed low but reasonable, you should be able to deal with traffic situations quickly and safely. Following are some problems you may encounter, along with some recommendations on how to handle them safely.
Used mainly in the city, one-way streets help to eliminate confusion in heavily-traveled areas and to keep the flow of traffic moving. Unfortunately, many drivers still get confused when they do not pay attention. Wrong way drivers are common, as are other motorists making turns from unsafe lanes. You need to be prepared to slow down dramatically if necessary. You need to know how to properly enter and exit one-way streets, and to always choose the safest lane.
Here are a few ways to identify a one-way street:
- All the lane markings are white.
- Posted traffic signs face the same direction on each side of the street.
- Parked cars are all facing the same direction.
- Signs are posted at the intersection preceding the one-way street (DO NOT ENTER, NO TURN, or ONE WAY).
- There may be speed bumps.
When entering a one-way street from a left turn, you should always turn sharply into the left lane. When entering a one-way street from a right turn, always turn into the right lane. After making the turn, you should choose the most appropriate lane of travel. If you plan on turning soon, get into the appropriate left or right lane. If you plan on traveling straight for some distance, choose the center lane if one is available, as it normally is the safest. The center lane is away from parked cars that may pull out. It also keeps you away from cars entering and exiting the street.
While driving on one-way streets, be sure to observe posted speed limit signs as well as signs that tell you to merge. One-way streets commonly become two-way streets, and you will be required to merge to the right. Another thing to be aware of on one-way streets is wrong way drivers. If you notice a vehicle heading towards you in the wrong direction on a one-way street, reduce speed, move to the far right, and use your horn and flash your lights to let that driver know he or she is going the wrong way.
When traffic is blocked, the result is a traffic jam or gridlock. This can be caused by heavy traffic or a vehicle that blocks at least one lane of traffic. Gridlock is an increasing problem throughout the streets and highways of the United States. The following are a few things you can do to help reduce this growing problem
- Avoid rubbernecking - Rubbernecking involves slowing down your vehicle so you can look at extraordinary collisions or traffic situations. The slowing of your vehicle that enables you to stare at a traffic mishap may also contribute to gridlock or even an additional collision.
- Make less frequent lane changes - Many drivers seem to think that changing from one lane to another will somehow increase their chances of bypassing bumper-to-bumper traffic. Instead, it merely increases the problem by causing other drivers to slow down.
- Don't tailgate - Tailgating causes collisions, which cause traffic bottlenecks, which lead to gridlock. Always leave enough room between your vehicle and the one you immediately follow.
- Keep your vehicle in good working order - Vehicle breakdowns block traffic flow and directly contribute to gridlock. A simple check of your vehicle's operating condition prior to use can help you avoid a potential breakdown.
- Join a carpool or use public transportation - The fewer vehicles that are on the roadway, the lower the chances for gridlock. Try to avoid driving alone if possible.
- Do not enter an intersection after the light has turned red - You must be able to completely clear the intersection before the light turns red. A major problem that causes gridlock is a driver's unwillingness to grasp the concept of keeping clear of intersections. Always observe road markings that warn drivers to keep intersections clear as they are a deterrence to gridlock.
VIOLATIONS OF THE GRIDLOCK LAW OFTEN CALL FOR SUBSTANTIAL FINES AND PENALTIES THAT VARY FROM CITY TO CITY.
An intersection is defined as an area where two or more roadways meet, whether or not one crosses the other. There are two different types of intersections: "controlled" and "uncontrolled." The difference is that one has traffic controls while the other does not.
A controlled intersection (also known as "marked" intersection) is one that is governed by either traffic signals or stop signs. When you approach this type of intersection, you must observe and follow what the posted signal or sign says. There are two major types of controlled intersections. When you come to an intersection controlled by a traffic signal (displaying red, yellow and green lights), you will have three different options:
- Proceed through the intersection (green light). You must make sure the intersection is clear before you go through.
- Stop completely behind the crosswalk or stop line (red light). You must wait behind this line until the light turns green and the intersection is clear.
- Approach with caution (yellow light). If your tires are across the crosswalk line, you should proceed. If you have not yet reached the crosswalk, you should stop. The time that a light stays yellow varies at all intersections, so you should never try to beat the light.
In all intersections, make sure it is safe and clear before you try to cross. If you get stuck in the middle of an intersection when the light turns red, you can get a gridlock ticket for impeding or blocking the flow of traffic.
The second type of controlled intersection is one that is regulated by STOP signs, which can either be four-way or two-way stops. Always follow right-of-way rules at this type of intersection. At an intersection controlled by an all-way STOP sign, the driver that comes to the intersection first has the right-of-way. If two drivers arrive at the same time, the driver to the right will have the right-of-way.
An uncontrolled (or unmarked) intersection has no signal or sign. Again you need to follow right-of-way rules, but you need to cross very carefully. Always slow down when approaching an uncontrolled intersection so you can yield to any traffic already in that intersection. The first vehicle that arrives at an intersection has the right-of-way in most cases. If you arrive at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time as another vehicle, treat it the same as a controlled intersection with STOP signs. The vehicle to the right will have the right-of-way. At an uncontrolled "T" intersection, the vehicles driving on the through road have the right-of-way. The vehicle on the street that is ending must yield to other vehicles.
Whenever you approach an intersection, whether it is controlled or uncontrolled, you must scan the road for hazards. Always check for other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, or any other obstructions that may impede your flow through the intersection. Use extra caution and slow down whenever you go through intersections near a church, school, park, or hospital.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is it ever legal to make a "rolling stop" at intersections that have stop signs? Why or why not?
A roundabout is a type of circular intersection which is designed to control traffic flow without the use of stop signs or traffic signals. Roundabouts are designed around a central island, with entrances and exits curved to force motorists to drive slowly. The only movement at an entry and exit of a roundabout is a right turn, thus eliminating the dangers of making left turns against oncoming traffic. Roundabouts also have raised "splitter" islands that divide the roadway at the entrances and exits. The limited movement and reduced speed helps to reduce many of the hazards typically found at traditional intersections.
The Insurance Institute for highway Safety found that crashes declined by 39% and crashes causing injury declined by 76% at 24 intersections after roundabouts were constructed. In addition, collisions involving serious injury or death fell by as much as 90%. By forcing drivers to slow down and pay attention to the road, roundabouts help increase traffic safety.
They are not yet common in Nevada, but because you will probably encounter a few roundabouts you should know how to use them. Navigating a roundabout may seem confusing, but one rule to keep in mind is that traffic in the roundabout always has the right of way. When you are approaching one, slow down and stop if necessary until your vehicle can enter safely. Keep the following rules and safety tips in mind:
- Yield to traffic in the roundabout, as it always has the right-of-way.
- Keep moving through the circle until you reach your exit.
- Always signal before making a turn.
- All turns into and out of the roundabout are right turns.
- When more than one car is in the roundabout, the car to the outside has the right-of-way.
- The speed in the roundabout is slow (about 15-20 mph) but should be constant. Traffic inside the roundabout should never stop, only motorists waiting to enter.
- If you miss your exit, continue around again.
- Maintain a slow, constant speed. Be careful in icy weather.
Intersections are prime areas for collisions. Some of the most important driving decisions, such as when to change lanes, turn, or slow down, are made at intersections. Use extreme caution when approaching and proceeding through intersections. Always remember to follow right-of-way rules in these areas. For example, if two vehicles approach the intersection at the same time, the vehicle to the immediate right will have the right-of-way. You will usually find it safer to cross intersections that are signal-controlled as opposed to those with stop signs. Before you proceed through an intersection, you must be able to determine the speed and distance of other vehicles that may conflict with your vehicle, as well as the time you require to complete the maneuver. On average, crossing an intersection completely takes an estimated four seconds.
Conflicting traffic, motor vehicles making turns, and opposing signals all increase the potential for a collision at an intersection. Drivers jumping green lights may conflict with drivers running red lights, which may lead to collisions. If you are turning left or right at an intersection, by law you must signal your intention to turn when you are at least 100 feet from the intersection, and you must be in the proper lane at least 100 feet in advance. The following are some other things to watch out for when approaching an intersection:
Gridlock at Intersections - When traffic at an intersection is blocked because of one driver's failure to clear the intersection before a red light, the result is often gridlock. The first line marking a crosswalk also marks the beginning of an intersection. A gridlock violation is often treated as a parking violation, not a moving violation. You still have to pay a fine either way. When there is a signal, you may enter the intersection on a green or yellow light and proceed out of it, even if the light turns red after having entered. However, if there is a possibility your vehicle will block traffic, you should not enter the intersection.
Roads with Stop Lines - Stop behind the stop line at an intersection or street controlled by a traffic light and proceed only when the light changes. At a street or intersection with a stop sign, you must stop behind the stop line. You may then proceed out into the intersection at a cautious speed to start a turn or other maneuver.
Road or Intersection without Stop or Crosswalk Lines - Intersections usually have painted stop lines or crosswalks, but not all do. If you don't see a stop line or marked crosswalk, you should use the end of the curb to determine where the intersection starts and where your vehicle should stop. In the absence of stop or crosswalk lines, the end of the curb would mark the beginning of the intersection on the road where a marked crosswalk would normally exist.
Lane Changes - Do not change lanes in an intersection, as it is illegal to do so. Conflict with other vehicles or causing other vehicles to make unsafe lane changes would typically constitute an illegal or unsafe maneuver.
Blind Intersections - A "blind intersection" is an intersection where you cannot see cross traffic until you are less than 100 feet away. Buildings, parked cars and bushes can obstruct your vision. When approaching a blind intersection, do so with extreme caution. Slow down and yield the right-of-way whenever it is not safe or prudent for you to proceed through unobstructed. If you reach a "T" intersection at the same time as another vehicle, you should yield the right-of-way if you are traveling on the road that ends at the intersection. Because of the limited visibility at a blind intersection, you should travel no more than 15 mph to pass through it safely. The reduced speed will give you ample time to see conflicting cars and road hazards. Proceed towards and through an unmarked blind intersection at a reasonably safe speed without exceeding 15 mph. Furthermore, you should have visibility of at least 100 feet in all directions before attempting to pass through.
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
Crosswalks - Crosswalks may be marked or unmarked and are located at the corner of each intersection, unless the intersection is marked with a single white stop line and posted with "NO PED XING." You must have extra awareness and caution around crosswalks because conflicts with pedestrians can lead to tragedy. A typical intersection has four pedestrian crosswalks, unless it is otherwise marked with "NO PED XING" signs. A "T" intersection usually has three crosswalks, unless it is otherwise marked. At all times, you must yield to pedestrians in either a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Always be prepared to give pedestrians the right-of-way even if they cross illegally.
Children and Dangerous Intersections - Always practice safe driving habits and use extra caution whenever transporting children near schools, parks or busy intersections. The "National Stop on Red Week," held in the first week in September, coincides with the beginning of the school year. This special week was created to help remind drivers of the dangers of children crossing intersections. After the long summer, many drivers forget to watch for children who go to and from school during commuting hours. Here are some helpful driving tips to make our streets safer for children:
- Always make a complete stop at red lights and stop signs. Be extra careful at intersections around schools.
- Obey the signs and follow the school's rules on loading and unloading students in front of school.
- Drive with your headlights on (even during the day) to be more visible to children.
- When driving in rain, snow, ice, or general bad weather, allow more space and following distance and use extra caution. It becomes more difficult to see children and to stop safely in bad weather.
- When transporting children, make sure everyone is buckled up each time they get into the vehicle. Children 12 and under should be properly restrained in the back seat. Remember to never place a rear-facing child safety seat in the front passenger seat of a vehicle with passenger front air bags or side air bags (the air bags could crush the child).
- Use extra caution around school buses, because they make many stops with children getting off and on each time. You may not pass a school bus when it is stopped and has either its lights flashing or a stop sign extended from the side of the bus.
- While driving, scan between parked vehicles and other objects for children that might dart out into the street.
- Look for clues that indicate children are around the area, such as school safety patrols, adult crossing guards, bicycles, school buses, parks and playgrounds.
- Obey the direction or traffic-control signals of any school crossing guards in school zone crosswalks, and wait for children and adults accompanying them, including the crossing guards themselves, to completely clear the road before continuing.
The freeway and interstate systems require driving skills that may differ from the skills you use on city streets. Increased speed, sudden slowing or stopping, and frequent lane changes (including merging) are inherent risks when driving on a freeway. Perception, reaction, and stopping distances are increased. Below are some things you need to do to be ready for the demands of freeway driving.
Plan Your Route in Advance - Give yourself a little extra time in order to deal with unexpected situations such as construction, wrecks or heavy traffic. Don't speed just to make up for lost time. Statistically, speeding over the length of a drive only gains two to four minutes versus a vehicle traveling the speed limit. Is it worth receiving a ticket or being involved in a collision for just a few minutes saved?
Follow the Guide Signs - These signs indicate distances, route direction, and names of off-ramp exits. By paying attention to these signs, you will be able to safely maneuver into the appropriate lane with advance notice to others. Avoiding any surprises before your exit is vital, and remember to always use your turn signals.
Have a Back-Up Route - Become familiar with alternate exits or side streets. You need a back-up plan or route in case something unexpected occurs.
Special Situations for Freeway Driving - During certain times of the day, usually peak or rush hour, you may encounter special situations affecting your drive. For example:
- Timed entrance lights are active at certain peak hours. Sometimes only one or two vehicles are permitted to proceed at each green light.
- Double merge lanes exist when two lanes converge into one acceleration lane. Normally, these have timed entrance lights that regulate traffic. If no such light is active, you must merge when it is your turn.
- Many people have a difficult time merging. The way to merge is actually an easy concept: the right side moves in first and then the left.
- Diamond lanes, also known as carpool lanes or high occupancy vehicle lanes, may be present. To use these lanes, two or more human occupants must be in your vehicle. If there are double merge lanes, and the one on the left is a diamond lane, vehicles in that lane may continue without stopping.
Entering and Exiting the Freeway
Entering the Freeway
Once you enter the acceleration lane of a controlled access freeway, you need to increase your speed to match that of the traffic flow while you look for an opening on the freeway. Use mirrors and visual checks to ensure safety. Though rare, this becomes more critical on left lane merge ramps. Remember to always yield to existing traffic when merging onto a freeway until you can proceed with reasonable safety. Freeway drivers do HAVE THE RIGHT-OF-WAY; however, this does not give one the right to speed up when another driver is attempting to enter. The acceleration lane is an extra lane that permits a vehicle to reach freeway speeds. Some tips for safe freeway driving include:
- Be aware of entrance signs that warn of merging traffic, yield requirements, speed limits, or curves.
- Observe ramp speed limit.
- Check the current flow of traffic.
- Stay alert. Watch the vehicle in front for sudden stops (brake lights and no movement usually indicate there is a problem and to slow down or stop).
- Find a gap in traffic.
- Adjust your speed for merging smoothly onto freeway "through" lanes.
- Always signal until you have merged onto the freeway safely.
Many drivers make mistakes when entering a freeway from the acceleration lane. The most common include sudden slowing or stopping or merging too slowly. These can cause collisions or more likely will irritate other drivers. The best way to avoid these mistakes is to increase speed once you are in the acceleration lane so that you can match the speed of traffic on the freeway.
Sometimes you may come across freeway on-ramps with no acceleration lane. Obey any posted yield or merge signs and use your turn signal to notify others of your intent to merge. Wait for a longer gap in traffic and accelerate quickly to gain the speed necessary to merge smoothly.
Exiting the Freeway
The proper way to get off a freeway is to use an exit ramp. The upcoming ramp, the distance to it, and its direction are normally posted well in advance. For example, "Central Avenue Exit 1/2 mile" indicates that Central Avenue is approaching and the exit is 1/2 mile away. Most exits are on the right side of the freeway, but they can sometimes be on the left as well. Scan ahead (at least 20 seconds or 1/3 mile) for signs that indicate your desired exit. While checking your mirrors and turning your head as necessary, turn on the appropriate turn signal and merge into the exit lane when safe.
You may sometimes miss your desired exit. Heavy traffic, unfamiliar surroundings, and even distractions may contribute to this. Stay calm... don't panic. Just continue driving to the next available exit ramp and then exit. Go back onto the freeway in the other direction and take the off ramp you missed. Never back up on a freeway! The other drivers will be going by you at extremely high speeds. Also, never cut across one or more lanes just to make the exit. It is obviously illegal to cut through the grass or to drive over a gore area just to make an off ramp.
Exit Lanes - An exit deceleration lane is a lane that allows you to decelerate in order to leave the freeway. These end with either a stop sign or light. Speed must be drastically reduced. This promotes safety without endangering traffic to the rear. If a yield sign is present in this situation, merge into traffic only when safe. Don't forget that speed limits are reduced in this situation - PAY ATTENTION! Special care needs to be taken when using curved exit ramps, as these ramps are not designed for freeway speed. Observe the speed limit signs so you don't crash while on the curve.
Multiple Deceleration Lanes - Sometimes exit ramps end in multiple deceleration lanes, which may be two, three, or even four lanes wide. The purpose is to stagger traffic and to allow drivers the choice to go straight, right, or left. Signs normally designate which lane a driver may turn into or proceed. For example, a sign with a right turn arrow means you may make a right turn when it is safe. You cannot make a left turn or go straight from this lane. Once you've safely maneuvered into the exit lane, you must reduce speed accordingly. Posted speed limit signs indicate the recommended safe exit speed. Gradually decelerate with the brakes as needed.
Required Skills for Driving on the Freeway
Choosing Lanes of Travel
Freeways can have two, three, four or more lanes of travel. So which lane should you choose?
Choose the right-hand lane if:
- Driving slower than the flow of traffic.
- Entering or exiting the freeway.
Choose the middle or left lane if:
- Driving at the speed limit or faster than other traffic. (The left-hand lane, or "fast lane," is for faster traffic.)
- Passing another vehicle.
After choosing a lane, you should:
- Stay in the middle of your lane.
- Limit the number of lane changes. Excessive lane changes increases your chances of crashing.
- Use the three-second following rule.
- Adjust your driving speed to allow other vehicles to enter the freeway.
Making a Safe Lane Change
Higher speeds on freeways make it more difficult to make safe lane changes. The first step is to check for ample space to make your lane change. Next, look ahead of you in both lanes, the lane you are traveling in as well as the lane you want to change into. Check for spacing, hazards, and the speed of the approaching cars. Then do the same procedure in the rear; checking for hazards, speed, and spacing in the lane you are in, as well as the lane you will be changing into. To check behind you, use both your rear view mirrors as well as your side mirrors. After checking your mirrors, turn your head and look around your blind spots, making sure there are no cars in the lane you are entering. Signal your intent to change lanes, then check all mirrors as well as ahead and behind again, making sure nothing has changed. You then want to accelerate slightly and change lanes. Change lanes only one lane at a time. Try to avoid slowing down or stopping when making a lane change, as this could cause a hazard to other drivers.
Lane Changes when Approaching Interchanges
When two or more freeways converge, this becomes an interchange. One lane on each freeway will be a merging lane. Caution is a must! Use your resources such as mirrors and signals to change to another lane to avoid the interchange, unless of course that is where you intend to travel.
Spacing and Scanning
Extra space and scanning further ahead is important with the high volume of cars and the faster speeds on the freeway. The three-second minimum spacing cushion necessary on most roadways should be increased to four seconds when on a freeway. In addition, you should leave spaces on all sides of your vehicle. Do not drive in clusters or groups. You want to leave yourself an out in case of an emergency. On freeways driving at 65 mph, you should scan 20 to 30 seconds ahead and check the entire width of the freeway.
Dealing With Freeway Challenges
Driving on the freeway presents unique challenges not found on other roadways. When driving on a freeway for an extended length of time, two problems can arise: velocitation and freeway hypnosis.
Unknowingly accelerating while driving is known as velocitation. When driving at faster speeds for any length of time, your body will adjust and incorrectly feel as if the car is going slower than it actually is. The best way to avoid this problem is to check the speedometer often. Make sure that you check for any posted speed advisory signs when exiting the freeway and drive accordingly. After you exit the freeway, checking your speed becomes more important. It takes time for your body and your vehicle to adjust to the slower speeds.
The second problem that might occur while driving for extended periods on the freeway is freeway hypnosis. This hypnosis occurs after driving at a steady speed with no stopping or slowing for a long period of time. In addition to this steady speed, most freeway driving is dull, with not much to look at. These factors can relax you and, over time, make you less attentive to your surroundings. In some situations, drivers have even been known to fall asleep at the wheel. Here are some ways to avoid this drowsiness:
- Avoid eating large meals before or during the trip.
- Take breaks - rest at regular intervals.
- Make sure the vehicle is cool and that there is proper ventilation.
- Talk with yourself or other passengers.
- Listen to the radio and change the station every once in a while.
- Change your seating posture from time to time.
- Scan the entire width of the road more often than usual.
Tollbooths are an added danger spot on freeways or expressways. These tollbooths collect a fee from drivers who travel on publicly-owned roads or expressways. When you approach a tollbooth, scan the road for signs that show the distance and the speed limit. You will need to slow down as you get closer to the booth. Upon approach, you will see signs designating certain lanes for special vehicles. Lanes may be set aside for exact change, cars only or trucks only, among several possibilities. Try to find your lane as soon as possible and have your payment ready before you reach a booth. Be aware of the vehicles around you as they may stop or change lanes suddenly.
Slow-moving vehicles are often a hazard on freeways because they are unable to travel very fast or keep up with the flow of traffic. Watch for large trucks, small underpowered vehicles, or steep grades which make acceleration difficult. Vehicles can lose speed on long or steep hills, and it may take longer for them to get up to speed when they enter traffic. If you see any of these vehicles ahead of time, you should be prepared to change lanes or slow down safely. Sudden slowing or stopping is often the cause of traffic collisions.
Do you have what it takes to drive on freeways? The following video discusses the special skills required to safely navigate these roads. Understanding these challenges will help you to be a better driver.
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Driving on Rural highways
Much of Nevada is rural, so most of the state's highways often travel through desolate areas. Even with all the open space, collisions can still occur. Each year, about three-fifths of all fatal crashes in the United States occur on rural roads. This is because emergency services are not always readily available in these areas. If you have an accident on a rural highway, the wait for an ambulance can be 20 minutes, sometimes more, and that is if they come at all. Once one does arrive, paramedics may need to give first aid to patients before loading them into the ambulance. This may take another 45 minutes to one hour before the crew can take you to the hospital to see a doctor. This can be bad because if crash victims have to wait more than 30 minutes to get to the hospital for treatment, they are five to seven times more likely to die. Always be alert when driving on rural highways.
Potential hazards you may encounter on a rural highway include:
Rough or Unpaved Roads
Rural roadways are not always as well-maintained as those you find in or around cities, and sometimes they may not be paved at all. Always scan the road surface conditions ahead of you. It may be covered in sand, gravel or dry earth, or it may be crisscrossed with cracks and potholes. These conditions lower the traction, so you would need to slow down.
Soft or Unmarked Shoulders
In addition to the rough conditions, rural roadways may not have shoulders that are marked (solid white lines). Often these shoulders are "soft," meaning they are not paved. Because of the uneven traction, soft shoulders make poor "outs." Be sure to slow down in these potentially dangerous areas.
Unmarked Farm and Field Driveways
Rural drivers often enter the roadway suddenly at low speeds, often from farm and field driveways that are unmarked. That makes them a hazard to drivers who are already on the roadway. The best way to avoid this problem is to scan a wider area ahead so you can identify these drivers before they reach the highway. When your line of sight is limited or obstructed, reduce your speed in keeping with how far ahead you can see.
Roadside stands or gas stations
Many drivers make last-minute decisions, sudden stops or turns into roadside stands or gas stations. Unfortunately, this often causes collisions. Also watch for drivers who leave their high beams on or re-enter the highway without looking. Check carefully, be aware, and adjust to the potential risks when driving near these areas.
Bicycles, tractors, large trucks, or animal-drawn vehicles may slow or block your path. In these cases, be prepared to reduce your speed to match the slower flow. You may need to follow at a slower speed until you can safely and legally pass them. You should watch for farm machinery in particular because they travel at significantly slower speeds. When driving near an animal-drawn vehicle, be careful not to spook the animal by sounding the horn, for example; a frightened horse drawing a carriage, for example, is a danger to both its passengers and you. Therefore if you need to pass an animal, do it with care.
Livestock Crossing Areas
Advance crossing signs should warn or alert you as a driver to the possibility of unexpected entries by cattle or other livestock onto the roadway. You should scan for these hazards and warning signs, and be prepared to stop if you see any animals.
Unexpected animal crossings
Small animals may dart into your path while you drive. Try to swerve or brake sharply, but only if it is safe. You never want to risk a collision or put a life in danger just to avoid a small animal. Always stop for large animals; cows, deer, elk, and other large animals can cause as much damage to you and your vehicle as another car.
Avoiding a Collision with Deer
A collision with a large animal such as a deer can be a frightening prospect. Although car-deer crashes do not occur often in Nevada, they do take place. Many deer come down to lower elevations seeking warmth during the winter, which can bring them near highways where they attempt to cross. The Nevada Department of Transportation has set up electronic information signs and flashing signs at known trouble spots for deer along the highway. Car-deer crashes most frequently occur during the fall and winter months (between September and December), when deer are the most active. A large number of these crashes occur between dusk and dawn (from around 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.) on two-lane roads. Therefore you need to be especially alert for deer during these hours. Following are some other ways you can avoid hitting deer (based on tips from the Insurance Information Institute and the state police in Michigan, which typically leads the nation in the number of car-deer crashes):
- Drive cautiously through deer crossing zones and in areas where deer are likely to roam. This means driving at reasonable speeds and covering the brakes as needed.
- Be sure that you and your passengers wear seat belts. Most people injured in deer crashes were not wearing their seat belts.
- At night, use your high beams when there are no vehicles coming from the opposite direction. The lights will help to illuminate the eyes of deer that may be nearby.
- If you see a deer nearby, and the road is clear, slow down and sound your horn with a long blast to frighten it away. If it does not budge, stop on the shoulder, turn on your hazard lights, and wait for the deer to move off the road. Don't try to drive around it.
- Brake sharply and stay in your lane when you see a deer in or near your path. It is dangerous to swerve, and that may in fact cause a serious collision because you may hit someone else or lose control of your car.
- If you hit a deer, and it is still alive, keep your distance as it may hurt you. Instead get your car off the road, if safe to do so, and call the police.
- Contact your insurance company to report any damage to your vehicle. Most insurers' comprehensive auto insurance policies cover collisions with deer.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Throughout this course, you have learned about various driving environments (city, highway, rural/open highway). Which of these will you be driving in most often? What skills will you need to bring with you as you make your way around this environment?