POLL: Freeway phobia

Freeways and expressways greatly reduce travel time, but they can make some people anxious.

Drivers may feel intimidated by multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic. They could feel trapped and believe they can’t stop or exit the road. Merging into traffic and changing lanes can also be challenging for some motorists.

Here are 10 strategies that may help overcome freeway phobia.

Before heading off

Plan ahead

Planning your trip can help you feel more confident. By knowing where you’ll exit the road, you can make sure you’re in the correct lane well before leaving the freeway. Traffic reports provide current road conditions, traffic volumes and hazards.

Green directional signs show upcoming exits. Researching Google Street View images before you leave will show what the exit signs look like, and identify alternative exits if you miss your intended departure point.

Expressway exit
Green signs show exits. Image: Google Street View

Try to avoid driving on freeways during busy periods, including at peak times in the morning and afternoon and when holidaymakers are returning from long weekend getaways.

If possible, avoid travelling at night or during bad weather. At these times, headlights and reflective road signs can be dazzling, other vehicles may appear to be travelling faster, and it’s more difficult to see finer details.

If you must drive at night, ensure all your car’s lights are clean and working properly, and make sure you know how to operate your high beam lights. Remember to switch off high beam within 200m of an oncoming vehicle, or a vehicle you’re approaching from the rear.

Clean lights will give you a better view at night. Image: Getty

Make sure your windscreen is clean and remove any objects obstructing your view.

Lastly, for longer journeys plan a break. This will allow you to refresh before continuing your trip.

Take a passenger

An experienced driver familiar with freeway travel can provide support and advice and act as a navigator.

On the freeway

1. Maintain speed and distance

Subject to traffic and weather conditions, try to maintain the posted speed limit. This will ensure you’re moving with the flow of traffic. Driving extremely slowly can result in a fine for obstructing the path of another driver.

Maintain at least a three-second gap from the vehicle in front to allow enough time to stop if the vehicle ahead brakes.

2. Master merging

Merging can be one of the most stressful driving manoeuvres when you’re entering a freeway. When merging from an on-ramp, you must give way to traffic already on the freeway. While many drivers already on the freeway will help by moving into the right-hand lane, this isn’t always possible, and they’re not required to do so.

Maintaining a three-second gap from the vehicle in front will contribute to safe merging and provide enough space if you need to brake.

Merging drivers must be prepared to slow down or stop, and wait for a break in the traffic.

Be prepared to slow down or stop when merging.

Keep in mind, you may need to accelerate quickly to enter the flow of traffic safely.

3. Pick a lane

The far-left lane is typically used by slower vehicles, and those entering and exiting the freeway.

On a three-lane freeway, the far-right lane is for overtaking. Overtaking drivers must move back to the left lane(s) as soon as possible, unless the road is congested or they’re avoiding an obstruction.

In South Australia, if the speed limit on a multi-lane road is higher than 80km/h, or there’s a ‘keep left unless overtaking’ sign, you must not drive in the far-right lane unless you’re overtaking a slower vehicle, avoiding an obstruction or congestion, or you’re about to turn right.

4. Avoid frequent lane changes

To reduce stress, only change lanes when necessary. Before changing lanes, check your blind spot (see point 6 below), and be sure to use your indicators so other drivers know your intentions.

The external mirrors on most modern vehicles make objects look further away than they really are. So, also check your interior mirror to ensure you don’t cut off any vehicles in the adjacent lane.

5. Scan ahead

While it’s important to pay attention to the vehicle immediately in front, you should also scan the road well ahead for any potential hazards, such as traffic coming to a stop or slow moving vehicles.

Check your rear-view mirrors regularly to see what’s happening behind you.

6. Be aware of blind spots

A vehicle’s structure creates blind spots where other vehicles and objects can’t be seen in your mirrors. To check blind spots, quickly look over your shoulders.

Keep in mind other drivers also have blind spots, and be prepared to react if a driver doesn’t see you and moves towards your lane.

Heavy vehicles have larger blind spots, including the area immediately behind them. Try not to linger in these blind spots because the driver won’t see you when they’re changing lanes or braking suddenly.

7. Remove distractions

Maintain your concentration by reducing distractions. Turn the radio down or off and put your phone on silent. This will enable you to focus on signposts, the traffic around you, and any instructions from a passenger.

fluffy dice
Be sure to remove driving distractions. Image: Getty

8. Know when and where to pull over

If an emergency occurs while you’re driving, pull over to the emergency stopping lane on the road shoulder. If there’s no emergency stopping lane or rest area, pull over to the far-left side of the road if it’s safe to do so, or take the nearest exit.

Once you’ve pulled into the emergency stopping lane, immediately turn on your hazard lights so other vehicles can see you’ve pulled over and stopped. This is especially important at night.

If you need to get out of your vehicle, stand as far away from traffic as possible – preferably behind a crash barrier.

You mustn’t drive or stop in an emergency stopping lane unless there’s an emergency or you’re avoiding an obstruction or collision.

9. Don’t reverse or make a U-turn

If you miss your exit, you mustn’t reverse your vehicle to the exit or make a U-turn. Not only is it illegal, but it could cause a collision with vehicles travelling at high speed. The safest option is to continue to the next exit and then head back to the exit you missed.

No U-turns
U-turns aren’t permitted on freeways.

10. Prepare for roundabouts

Some freeways have a roundabout immediately after the exit, so it’s important to follow the posted freeway exit speed and prepare to enter the roundabout safely.

Remember to indicate if you’re going around a roundabout, and make sure you choose the correct lane for exiting. You must indicate left before exiting the roundabout.

Motorists must give way to vehicles already on a roundabout.

Driving on a freeway can be stressful, but common sense, good planning, driving to the conditions, and a sound knowledge of the road rules will help you overcome these fears.

If you drive on a freeway regularly, your skills should improve and you’re likely to become more confident.

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