Prepare to drive ANYWHERE!

Urban and rural areas have fundamentally different characteristics with regard to density of road networks, land use, and travel patterns. Consequently, the characteristics of fatal motor vehicle crashes differ between rural and urban areas. For example, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and deaths at intersections are more prevalent in urban areas, whereas a larger proportion of passenger vehicle and large truck occupant deaths and deaths on high-speed roads occur in rural areas.

Although 19 percent of people in the U.S. live in rural areas and 30 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas, still more than half of crash deaths occur there.

A total of 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014. Since 1999, there has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths in rural areas, with the proportion declining from 61 percent in 1999 to 51 percent in 2014.

In this section, we will examine some rural and urban driving tips and discuss how to exit and merge onto freeway ramps.

Driving in Rural Areas

Driving conditions in rural areas differ from those in city areas, primarily because there is less traffic. Yet rural areas can be twice as dangerous as their city counterparts—nearly twice as many highway deaths occur in rural areas.

On open highways, be aware of the following hazards and driving challenges:

  • Unmarked field and farm driveways and entrances: these unmarked roads are often hidden because of crops, bushes, or trees. Always keep a lookout for potential hazards like hidden driveways or farm field entrances, as they can become “instant intersections”.
  • Always reduce your speed when driving through rural areas. Even at slower speeds, you should remain alert—the danger of a vehicle pulling from the side of the highway into traffic is very high in rural areas.
  • Livestock crossing areas and farm vehicles: when driving in rural areas you must be wary of things such as tractors, farm trucks, and farm animals in the roadway. Always be alert and keep a lookout for any animals crossing the highway. If you encounter a herd of animals on a highway, stop and let the animals cross. Once they are gone, proceed with caution.
  • Rough road conditions: rural highways are rough roads designed for slower speeds. These roads are paved with various materials like concrete, asphalt, crushed stone, etc. Fresh tar is often spread over gravel when patching the rural roadways. Proceed with care to avoid throwing tar on your vehicle and stay back from any traffic in front of you to avoid flying gravel. Most open highways in rural areas are maintained less frequently and lack the advanced features of modern freeways. In some places, these highways may not be paved. Dirt roads are common in many rural areas.
  • Roadside stands and gas stations: drivers on rural highways encounter many additional hazards as the highway passes through small communities. Roadside stands, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, rural attractions, and local events are often found on the side of the highway.
  • Soft and unmarked shoulders: be aware of unmarked and soft shoulders on open highway

Two common effects of driving on open highways are velocitation and highway hypnosis.

Velocitation is a phenomenon caused by driving for long periods at high speeds. You’ve probably experienced velocitation coming off of the highway; the change in speed makes you think that the car is going much slower than it actually is. Velocitation is dangerous because it can lead you to drive much faster than you intend. Avoid speeding on rural roads or after you exit the freeway by checking your speedometer regularly. This way, you will be able to realize how fast you are going.

Credit: Ken Sheetz, Velocitation

When driving on rural highways for a long period of time, be aware of a condition known as “highway hypnosis”. This condition results in driving in a dulled, drowsy, trance-like state. You should always be aware of your surroundings. To avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, take frequent breaks. Don’t drive for a long period of time and stop if you begin to feel tired.

Credit: DMVGuideOnline, Highway Hypnosis

Driving In Urban Areas

Urban or city driving involves a variety of complex driving situations. Spaces are limited; you deal with lots of cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, buses and one-way streets. If you are driving too fast and don’t pay attention, you can hit a person, parked car, or make a sudden stop or maneuver which could cause other drivers to collide with your vehicle. In city driving, you should be prepared to stop or slow down suddenly. Cover braking provides a smooth transition from acceleration to braking and is effective for slowing in reduced stopping distances. During heavy traffic it is very important to maintain a proper distance between vehicles in your front, side, and rear zones. Also be aware of brake lights, since it is very common for the flow of traffic to suddenly slow or even come to a complete stop. As a result, you should be prepared to stop or slow down suddenly. Cover braking provides a smooth transition from acceleration to braking and is effective for slowing in reduced stopping distances.

The cover braking technique involves taking your right foot off the accelerator and holding it over the brake pedal. If you have to stop quickly, your foot is already above the brake pedal and is in the perfect position to press the brake. This method will improve your reaction time. So, whenever you identify a hazard, cover the brake to prepare for sudden stops or slowing. When covering the brake, be careful not to rest your foot on the brake pedal, also known as “Riding the Brake”. Riding the brake is not recommended; it will only confuse other drivers and add unnecessary wear to the brakes.

Covering the brakes is recommended when:

  • Passing parked cars, as they may pull out in front of you or swing open a door;
  • You see cars in front of you with their brake lights on;
  • Approaching a signal light in a busy intersection (look for traffic build up and flashing crosswalk lights as these indicate that the light is about to change).

When traffic is heavy, such as early morning or late afternoon rush hour, the lanes and spaces surrounding your vehicle are filled. This makes it more difficult to create a safe cushion of space around your vehicle. Sometimes traffic becomes so heavy that your car comes to a stop. This type of traffic is called gridlock.

It is very important to maintain a proper distance between vehicles in your front, side, and rear zones. This is even more critical—and more of a challenge—during heavy traffic. The space that you have the most control over is the zone ahead of you. In heavy traffic, maintain as large a space as you can. If the gap is too large, other drivers will want to move into it, and this creates a new problem. Creating a cushion of space that is sufficiently large without tempting incursions on the part of the driver in an adjacent space is a complex driving task that all drivers face.

It is common on city streets for traffic to suddenly reduce to a crawl. Be extra vigilant when navigating through heavy traffic, and try to avoid being surprised when drivers ahead brake suddenly. If you are aware of the brake lights far ahead, you will know what to expect.

Entering and Exiting a Limited Access Highway

This is a very good tips and tricks video to help you with entering and exiting a limited access highway such and interstates and toll roads.

Credit:, Freeway Entry & Exit Driving Tip