Driving On Expressways

Driving On Expressways

Driving on the Freeway - Minnesota Dept of Public Safety
Freeways are multi-lane divided highways with limited access from other roads. Because there are no stops or cross traffic, they permit you to travel long distances without stopping, as quickly and safely as possible. To make use of the advantages of freeway driving, you should know how to use the freeways properly. Learn to understand and recognize their unique features. This will help to decrease driving time and make fatigue less severe.

Planning Your Trip

When planning a trip on state freeways, you should know in advance where you plan to go and what stops you will make on the way. Use a map to decide exactly where you must enter and exit the freeway.

Check the gas gauge on your vehicle. Get fuel if you do not have enough to reach your first stop. Make sure your car is in good mechanical condition. Check to see that the tires (including a spare in the trunk) are fully inflated, have good treads and are free of breaks. Also remember to check the water and oil levels.

Planing your trip

Because there are no service stations located directly on freeways, you may be in big trouble if your car breaks down or runs out of gas. Remember, running out of gas is not an emergency situation. If this happens, you may receive a ticket for parking on the freeway.

Entering the Freeway

Entry ramps are provided for getting onto state freeways. These are short, one-way traffic ramps that allow you to enter the freeway easily and safely.

Once you reach the end of the entry ramp you will come to a special acceleration lane. This lane will allow you to increase speed enough to match that of other traffic already on the freeway. Watch for an opening in the nearest traffic lane. When you spot one, merge smoothly into the lane of traffic. Remember to use your turn signal soon enough to allow other traffic to see where you are going so they may adjust accordingly. Drivers on the freeway should allow you room to merge, but you are the one required to yield if they do not. Do not stop on the ramp or in the acceleration lane unless absolutely necessary.

When there is a YIELD sign posted on the entry ramp, and no acceleration lane, entering vehicles must yield to traffic already on the freeway. If necessary, you should stop rather than force your way into the traffic stream.

The first things you should learn to do when using a freeway are to observe the posted speed limits, keep pace with other traffic and stay alert. If you are driving at a speed slower than other traffic, stay in the lane nearest the right side of the roadway.

Cutting in and out of traffic lanes is a very dangerous practice. Choose the lane of traffic moving at the speed you prefer and stay in it. If you must change lanes to pass traffic or leave the freeway, check your path carefully. Make sure it is clear of other traffic, then signal your intent. As always, signals should be made well in advance of making the actual move.


Interchanges are the points where one freeway intersects with another. Because freeways cannot have any direct intersections with other roads, each must be built on a different level, with one going beneath the other. Separate connecting roads must be built as well to allow traffic to transfer from one freeway to the other. This design allows vehicles to cross, enter, or leave either highway without interfering with traffic on the other.

Tips for Merging Smoothly:

  • If there are several cars waiting in line and you have not yet entered the ramp, you must do one of the following:
    a. Join the line and wait your turn.
    b. Keep going to the next entry ramp.
    c. Use another route to reach your destination.
  • Obey the green, amber and red lights on the ramp meter signal as you would any regular traffic signal. Passing through on a red light is not legal.
  • If there are no cars waiting at the signal, approach it slowly to avoid a sudden stop. If you are in a line of cars, sudden stops can be dangerous. Stay alert.
  • If you are waiting to enter behind a slow truck, give the slower vehicle additional space to allow him/her to safely merge with traffic.
  • Make good use of the acceleration lane. Traffic may still be jammed at or near the point where you must merge. To merge safely and without interrupting traffic flow try to get up to freeway speed before merging.
  • While waiting for the meter signal, watch for emergency vehicles that may have to use the entry ramp. Be prepared to move onto the side so they can pass by.

Here are a few of the most common types of interchanges

Common types of interchanges: Cloverleaf

Cloverleaf. Designed to allow vehicles to turn off or onto the freeway from four different directions without turning left or crossing other traffic. Uses connection roads with a loop.

Types of interchanges: Diamond

Diamond. Designed to allow vehicles to enter or leave the freeway while flowing with traffic. Turns are made after leaving the freeway. Uses four connecting ramps, one for traffic leaving the freeway from each direction, and for traffic entering the freeway from each direction.

Types of interchanges: Folded Diamond

Folded Diamond. Also designed to allow traffic to enter or leave the freeway while flowing with traffic. Very similar to the diamond in design with all turns made after leaving the freeway. 

Motorist Information

Some freeways that go through urban areas have unusually heavy traffic. A number of methods are used to help regulate traffic flow and inform drivers of conditions that may be dangerous. These devices include:

  • Ramp meter signals.
  • Changeable message signs.
  • Lane use control signals.
  • Traffic grade signs.
  • Traffic radio, television, and telephone.
  • Internet
  • High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
  • Highway Helpers

Ramp meter signals are used on many freeway entry ramps in some states. These signals help to reduce traffic jams and accidents. They also make merging onto the freeway much easier.

Ramp meter signals look like regular traffic signals. They are placed at a point which is about halfway through the entry ramp. Normally, these signals are used during peak traffic hours. These signals may control more than one lane of traffic on the ramp. You must obey the signal for the lane you are in. To make sure that the traffic detectors used to activate the signal can "see" you, pull up close to the signal device.

Changeable message signs are used on certain freeways to:

  • Warn drivers of traffic accidents, stalled vehicles, or other traffic problems.
  • Provide information on traffic flow conditions.
  • Advise drivers that they need to slow down and leave the freeway, or avoid it altogether.

Lane use control signals are used on freeways to warn drivers of dangerous conditions in the lane they are using. They are also used to keep drivers out of lanes blocked by accidents, stalled vehicles, road work, or other problems.

Traffic grade signs are used in some areas to give information on traffic flow conditions on the next section of freeway.

Traffic radio, television, and telephone provides information on metro area driving conditions.

High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes allow vehicles with two or more people to use diamond and express lanes. The goal of HOV lanes is to use the current freeway system more efficiently and to provide a quicker, more reliable trip to those who carpool.

Stopping or Parking On the Freeway

You may never park on an interstate freeway except in an emergency where you cannot drive your vehicle to the nearest exit ramp. When this happens, you must park on the shoulder. It is illegal to stop or park in a traffic lane on any highway outside a business or residential district. In case of an emergency where you must stop on the freeway, you should do the following:

  • Park your vehicle on the shoulder as far off the main road as possible.
  • Open the trunk and raise the hood (if it is not raining or snowing).
  • Tie a white cloth to the radio antenna or a door handle. Make sure it is clearly visible. Use emergency flashers if you have them. If
  • you have flares or reflectors place them from 100 to 500 feet behind your vehicle on the right-hand edge of the main roadway.
  • If possible, stay with your vehicle.
  • If you must leave your vehicle you should move to the left side of the highway and walk against traffic. Never walk on the highway itself unless you must cross to the other side. In this case make sure that there is no traffic on the roadway before crossing.

The white cloth and flashers are distress signals that will let law enforcement officers know that you need help. Officers seeing a car parked on the freeway may ticket the vehicle if it is stopped for any reason other than an emergency.

Emergency Vehicles

When you are on a freeway or divided highway and an emergency vehicle approaches you from behind, with red lights flashing and siren sounding, move to the closest side of the road and stop. Don’t panic and slam on the brakes or swerve into the other lanes. Remember to use your turn signal.

If there are other vehicles trying to move in the same direction as you are, you should make room for them. When you are at the side of the road or by the curb make a complete stop.

Remain stopped until the emergency vehicle has completely passed, then check for other emergency vehicles that may be following it. Start again cautiously. If you are behind a fire-fighting vehicle, stay at least 500 feet away from it.

Getting Off the Freeway

Getting off the freeway at the right exit is not always an easy thing to do. Remember to plan where you will get off the freeway before starting out, using maps and other guides to find out where the exits are. When you are on an unfamiliar freeway, watch carefully for guidance signs to tell you where the exits are.

When you are near the place where you plan to exit, move into the correct lane as soon as safely possible. Signal your turn, then get into the deceleration lane. This is a separate lane set aside for you to use when getting on to an exit ramp. It gives you time to slow down before entering the ramp without blocking other traffic. If you miss your exit for any reason, do not do anything dangerous, just keep going to the next exit. You can not back up or make a U-turn to get to the desired exit.

What to do in a Driving Emergency

There is one basic rule that applies to any driving situation: THINK before you ACT. This rule is particularly important in a driving emergency. Your first instinctive reaction -- such as slamming on the brakes when your vehicle loses a tire -- is often not the right one.

The following are some suggestions that may help you when you are faced with a driving emergency. Remember, these are only suggestions. In some driving emergencies, there is little that the driver can do but hang on and hope. But in many cases, a driver who learns these suggestions and follows them in an emergency can greatly lessen the possibility of a crash.

  • Blowouts. A blowout is the sudden collapse of a tire that can throw your vehicle out of control. Your vehicle will often give some warning signs when a tire is on the verge of a blowout, such as a thumping sound from one of the wheels, caused by a bulge in the tire; or a pull on the steering wheel to one side of the road, caused by rapid air loss in one of the tires on that side.
    When you have a blowout, hold tightly to the steering wheel, steer straight ahead, and slowly ease your foot off the accelerator. DO NOT BRAKE UNTIL THE VEHICLE IS BACK UNDER YOUR CONTROL. Pull the vehicle completely off the roadway at the nearest safe spot and use extreme caution if you plan to change the tire. It is not recommended that you change a tire while on a freeway, you may have to drive on the shoulder of the roadway and exit at the first available opportunity.
  • Loss of a Wheel. This is a similar situation to a blowout. The warning signs are often the same -- a thumping noise and/or a pulling to one side. The same basic rules also apply for recovering control: Hold tightly to the steering wheel, steer straight ahead, take your foot slowly off the accelerator, and DO NOT BRAKE until the vehicle has slowed down and you are back in control.
  • Steering Failure. If you are suddenly unable to control the steering of your vehicle, and the steering wheel no longer responds to your turning movements, ease up on the accelerator, but DO NOT BRAKE unless absolutely necessary to avoid a crash. Your vehicle may have enough natural balance to keep it moving forward as you slow it down.
    If you brake, or try to shift gears, this sudden change in speed may throw the vehicle off balance and completely out of control. As the vehicle slows down, you may be able to brake very gently to help bring it to a stop.
  • Brake Failure. You will usually receive advance warning that your brakes are starting to fail when the pedal feels spongy, and slowly continues to sink after you have stopped applying pressure. A warning light should come on if there is a serious problem with the brakes. If your brake pedal suddenly sinks all the way to the floor, try pumping the pedal to build up the pressure.
    If this does not work, slowly apply your emergency/parking brake, so that you do not lock the brakes and throw your vehicle into a skid. The stopping distance will be longer because only the rear brakes are being used; however, the vehicle will stop eventually. If you can, shift into a lower gear and/or turn off the engine -- leaving the vehicle in gear. The engine will slow you down. But if you have power steering and/or power brakes, you will lose any power you have left in them when you turn off the engine.
  • Running Off the Pavement. If your wheels drift onto the shoulder of the road do not try to swerve back onto the pavement. You might throw your vehicle off balance.
    Stay on the shoulder and slowly release the gas pedal. After you have slowed down, turn back onto the pavement. Then speed up again.
  • Vehicle Approaching in Your Lane. If you see a vehicle coming toward you in your lane, pull over to the right and slow down. Honk your horn. At night, flash your lights as well. You may wake up the sleepy or distracted driver and alert him/her to get back into the right lane. Do not move into the left lane, as the other driver may wake up and move back into the path of your vehicle. If the vehicle keeps coming towards you and there could be a collision, steer off the roadway to the right.
  • Vehicle Trying to Pass You. If there is a vehicle trying to pass you but unable to complete the movement because of oncoming traffic, you are in danger as well.
    You must act to prevent an accident. If the passing vehicle is far enough into the pass to be able to complete it with your help, slow down so the driver can move ahead of you more quickly.
    If it becomes necessary for the passing vehicle to drop back, speed up so that there is enough room for the driver to move in behind you again.
    If it appears that a crash is almost certain and there is a right shoulder that is broad enough for your vehicle, move onto it quickly to allow the passing vehicle to move into your lane.
  • Stalling on Railroad Tracks. If your vehicle stalls on railroad tracks and you have a manual transmission, you may be able to move it off the tracks by running the starter while the vehicle is in low or second gear. If not, or if you have an automatic transmission, you will have to put the transmission in neutral and push the vehicle off the tracks. This procedure should never be used if a train is in sight!
    If you cannot get the vehicle off the tracks, and a train is approaching, leave the vehicle. Walk quickly alongside the tracks toward the approaching train. This is to avoid being struck by debris when the vehicle is hit by the train.
  • Plunging Under Water. If your vehicle plunges into deep water, but does not sink immediately, escape through a window. Do not open a door, even if possible. This will only allow the water to enter your vehicle more quickly.
    If the vehicle sinks beneath the surface before you can escape, the weight of the engine will force the front end down first. Do not panic, as this usually creates an air pocket in the back of the vehicle. Find this pocket and get into it quickly. Breathe in deeply. When the vehicle has settled, you should be able to escape through a window. If there are young children or anyone else in the vehicle who is unable to release their safety belts, be sure to do so before leaving the vehicle.
  • Fire. If smoke comes out from under the hood of your vehicle, get off the road, turn off the ignition, and get out of the vehicle immediately. Do not use water to try to put out the fire because burning gas will float on it and spread the blaze.
  • Overheating. You can help prevent overheating when you are in slow-moving traffic. Shift into neutral and race your engine briefly during stops. This will speed up the fan and the water pump. Turning on the heater may also help.
    If steam begins to come from under the hood of your vehicle, the cooling system is boiling. Pull the vehicle off to the side of the road and turn off your engine. Never open the radiator cap when the engine is warm as you could be severely burned.
  • Headlight Failure. If your headlights suddenly go out, try your parking lights, emergency flashers, or turn signals - one of them may work and give you enough light to guide you until you can get off the road.
    If your headlights fail on a busy or lighted road, you will probably have enough light from other sources to guide you off the road. If all your lights fail on a dark, deserted road, slow down and try to keep your vehicle on the pavement until you have slowed down enough to move onto the shoulder without hitting anything.
  • Windshield Wiper Failure or Sudden Opening of Hood. If your windshield wipers suddenly stop in blinding rain or snow, slow down immediately, being careful not to reduce your speed drastically when you have vehicles following you. Roll down your side window and put your head out so that you can see ahead. Then get your vehicle off the road as soon as possible.
    If your vehicle’s hood should suddenly open up and block your view, use the same method.
  • Stuck Gas Pedal. If your accelerator (gas pedal) sticks, you may be able to free it by hooking your toe under the pedal and trying to raise it.
    If this does not work, you can shift into neutral or turn the engine off and slow the vehicle down. But if you have power brakes and/or power steering, they will lose power when you turn off the engine. Keep your eyes on the road and continue steering the vehicle straight ahead until you can safely pull the vehicle over to the side of the roadway.
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Carbon monoxide fumes may collect inside your vehicle when you run the engine with all the windows closed. These fumes are odorless and deadly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are sudden fatigue, yawning, dizziness, ringing in the ears, headache, and nausea. The only cure is to get a good supply of fresh air. If you feel any of these symptoms, stop your engine, open the windows, and get out of the vehicle as soon as possible.
    Because you are more likely to keep all the windows closed when driving in the winter, carbon monoxide poisoning is much more likely to happen at this time of the year. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning there are a few simple precautions to take. These include the following:
  • a. Have your vehicle’s exhaust system checked regularly. This is to make sure that it does not leak.
  • b. Do not leave your motor idling or drive with all the windows closed tightly.
  • c. Do not warm up the motor while your vehicle is in a closed garage.

All of these things are meant to improve the safety and efficiency of our freeway system. However, you, the driver, have the responsibility for maintaining control of your vehicle, being courteous to other motorists, and for obeying all traffic laws.

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