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How to Drive Safely As Speed Limits Soar (Texas just hit 85 mph)

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A 41-mile stretch of Texas State Highway 130, a toll road connecting Austin and San Antonio, now has a speed limit of 85 miles per hour (mph), the highest in the country.

Highway speed limits are creeping up nationwide, with 80-mph limits appearing elsewhere in Texas and in Utah…75-mph limits proliferating in the western half of the US…and 70-mph limits becoming common across much of the country. And many drivers routinely travel five to 10 mph or more above the posted limits.

Maintaining a conservative speed on a fast highway won’t necessarily keep you safe—risks increase for all drivers when there are large differences between the speeds of vehicles on the road.

Here’s what responsible drivers can do to stay safe on highways when vehicles are moving very fast…

IF YOU’RE A FASTER DRIVER

Traveling at high speeds requires taking some precautions.

Maintain a safe following distance—even though that distance will feel unnaturally long. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the longer it requires to stop in an emergency. Many drivers fail to take this into account on high-speed highways and instead follow at the same distance that they do when the speed limit is just 55 mph.

In good weather, you should be three to four seconds behind the car ahead, which will seem like a very long way at 75 mph or 85 mph. In poor weather conditions, you should be five to six seconds back. Measure this distance by silently counting off the seconds from when the vehicle ahead passes a road sign until you do, and repeat this process occasionally until this distance becomes second nature.

Resist any urge to tailgate slow drivers who won’t get out of your way. Tailgating is always dangerous, but at high speeds, it can be deadly.

It’s best not to flash your headlights at the car ahead to request that the driver move over, either. Some drivers consider headlight flashing overly aggressive and react poorly to it, intentionally blocking the passing lane.

If a slower vehicle does not get out of the far left lane to let you pass, the driver may not realize that you’re behind him or may not understand that it is his duty to get out of your way. One thing to try: Turn on your left-turn signal—the blinking light might catch his eye in his rearview mirror and alert him to your presence without the aggressiveness of headlight flashing.

Avoid passing on the right if at all possible. The slower driver might pick that moment to move to the right to get out of your way.

Don’t get greedy on high-speed-limit roads. A speed limit of 75 mph should not be taken as an invitation to drive 80 mph or 85 mph. Driving 75 mph is plenty fast.

Example: In Virginia, drivers can be ticketed for reckless driving if they are traveling 20 mph or more above the speed limit—or if they’re driving above 80 mph regardless of the speed limit. That means driving just 11 mph above the speed limit on a 70-mph highway can trigger this charge. Penalties can include fines climbing into the thousands, extra points on your driving record and even jail time.

IF YOU’RE A SLOWER DRIVER

If you’re not comfortable with high speeds…

Stay in the right lane(s) as much as possible. Fast drivers tend to prefer the left lane(s) on multilane highways. Staying to the right increases the distance between you and them, substantially reducing the odds that speed differences will cause accidents.

Exception: Move out of the right-most lane—if you safely can do so—as you approach entrance ramps where vehicles are attempting to merge onto the highway. Not only is it good manners to give these drivers room to merge, there’s a chance that one or more of those drivers could be aggressive and might cut you off if you stay in the far-right lane.

Turn on your right blinker even if you can’t immediately get out of a faster driver’s way. If you’re in the passing lane when a fast driver approaches from behind but other cars block you from safely merging to the right, still turn on your right blinker. The blinker lets the fast driver know that you understand that he wishes to pass and that you will move over as soon as possible. That often placates aggressive drivers enough to dissuade them from tailgating or attempting dangerous passes.

Also, take a moment to turn on your right blinker even if you can immediately move to the right. Your natural inclination might be to skip the blinker and just get out of the way as quickly as possible, but if you do that, the fast driver might not realize that you intend to move over and might try to pass you on your right, causing a dangerous situation as both of you move into the lane.

Drive with your headlights on even during the day. Turning on your headlights activates your taillights, which makes your car more visible to those coming up quickly from behind.

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Source: William Van Tassel, PhD, manager of driver training operations at the AAA national office in Heathrow, Florida. He holds a doctorate in safety education. AAA.com

Date: December 1, 2012 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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