Even though divided highways are statistically safer than most other roadways, the relatively high speeds, frequent lane changes, and congestion can be unnerving. To survive this sometimes-hostile battleground you need to foresee problems before they materialize and continually position yourself to be seen and defend against aggression.
The hazard you’re most likely to encounter is a driver merging into you. Drivers who are distracted and generally careless routinely change lanes without a glance. As much as we’d love to change their behavior, it ain’t going to happen. Even responsible drivers will inadvertently invade your space if they don’t see you.
You can minimize the risk of getting caught up in another driver’s mistake by spotting potential hazards early. Keep a lookout for brake lights and sudden head or arm movements that may indicate slowing traffic, imminent lane changes, or an erratic maneuver. Identifying these subtle clues allows you to avoid last-second decisions and desperate reactions.
If you can’t shake the tailgater, increase following distance from the car ahead.
If you ride where drivers can’t see you, don’t be surprised if you experience a lot of close calls. Be as conspicuous as possible by choosing lane positions that place you where drivers can easily see you, either through their windows or in their mirrors. On the highway, this means not lingering in the area just behind the front doors, a.k.a. the blind spot. Make sure to ride through this danger zone and avoid changing lanes into a driver’s blind spot. Instead, accelerate ahead before moving over. Understand that you have blind spots too. Typical motorcycle mirrors aren’t great at revealing what’s behind you, so take a quick glance over your shoulder to be sure it’s safe before changing lanes.
Besides making you visible, the optimum lane position allows you to see well ahead so you can spot problems early and provides a space buffer between you and surrounding vehicles. Smart lane positioning also includes ample following distance that gives you good forward vision and the time and space to respond calmly if traffic stops quickly or if a shredded truck tire or other debris suddenly appears from underneath a car in front of you. Heavy highway traffic doesn’t always allow prudent following distance. To increase forward vision and reduce the risk of being hit by inattentive drivers, position yourself to the left or right to create an escape path between lanes if you need it.
If a driver insists on crowding your six, change lanes to let him by. If you can’t shake the tailgater, increase following distance from the car ahead. Tailgaters become less problematic if you maintain the pace set by the average driver and stay out of the left lane unless passing. When passing, do so quickly to minimize riding in blind spots and to stay out of the way.
When entering the highway, use the entrance ramp to accelerate to speed before merging into traffic. Give drivers ahead plenty of room in case they decide to slow—sudden braking is common and extra dangerous when merging. Once you’re on the highway, change lanes gradually and stay out of the right-hand lane when approaching exit or entrance ramps to avoid cars that are entering or exiting the freeway.
Other things to watch for are poorly secured loads on car rooftops and in trucks and trailers—potential debris! You also need to be wary when approaching tollbooths, as drivers frantically jockey for a place in the shortest line. Pick your lane early and clearly signal your intent. Using a “Fast Lane” transponder allows you to roll through the booth without stopping to search for coins.
When riding on rural highways with little traffic, your biggest challenge may be simply staying alert. In contrast, surviving a highway run during rush hour requires steadfast diligence. Keep your wits sharp and adopt effective highway strategies to ensure your safe arrival.