California Driver Handbook - Vehicle Positioning
Merging In/Out Of Traffic
Whenever you enter traffic, signal and be sure you have enough room to safely enter the lane. You have to share space with traffic already on the road, and you must know how much space you need to merge with, cross or enter, and exit out of traffic.
Space to Merge
Enter the freeway at or near the speed of traffic. (Remember that the maximum speed allowed is 65 mph on most freeways.) Do not stop before merging into freeway traffic, unless it is absolutely necessary. Freeway traffic has the right-of-way.
Any time you merge with other traffic, you need a gap of at least 4 seconds, which gives both you and the other vehicle only a 2 second following distance. When it is safe, go back to following the “3-second rule” (refer to the “Do not be a tailgater!” section).
- Do not try to squeeze into a gap that is too small.
- Watch for vehicles around you. Use your mirrors and turn signals. Turn your head to look quickly over your shoulder before changing lanes or merging in traffic. Leave 3 seconds of space between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Make sure you can stop safely, if necessary.
- If you need to cross several freeway lanes, cross them one at a time. If you wait until all of the lanes are clear, you may cause traffic delays or a collision.
Space to Cross or Enter
Whenever you cross or enter city or highway traffic from a full stop, you will need a large enough gap (from vehicles approaching in either direction) to get up to the speed of other vehicles. You need a gap that is about:
- Half a block on city streets.
- A full block on the highway.
If you are crossing lanes or turning, make sure there are no vehicles or people blocking the path ahead or to the sides of your vehicle. You do not want to be caught in an intersection with traffic coming at you.
Even if you have the green traffic signal light, do not start across the intersection if there are vehicles blocking your way.
When turning left, do not start the turn just because an approaching vehicle has its right turn signal on. The driver may plan to turn just beyond you, or the signal may have been left on from an earlier turn. This is particularly true of motorcycles. Their signal lights often do not turn off automatically. Wait until the other driver actually starts to turn before you continue.
Space to Exit
When you plan to exit the freeway, give yourself plenty of time. You should know the name or number of the freeway exit you want, as well as the one that comes before it. To exit safely:
- Signal, look over your shoulder, and change lanes one at a time until you are in the proper lane to exit the freeway.
- Signal your intention to exit for approximately 5 seconds before reaching the exit.
- Be sure you are at the proper speed for leaving the traffic lane–not too fast (so you remain in control) and not too slow (so the flow of traffic can still move freely).
When Approaching to Pass
Before you pass, look ahead for road conditions and traffic that may cause other vehicles to move into your lane. Only pass when safe to do so.
You must judge whether you have enough room to pass whenever you approach:
- An oncoming vehicle.
- A hill or curve.
- An intersection.
- A road obstruction.
- A bicyclist.
Do not pass:
- If you are approaching a hill or curve and cannot see if other traffic is approaching.
- Within 100 feet of an intersection.
Vehicles may appear to move slower than they are actually moving. A vehicle that is far away generally appears to be standing still. If you can see it moving closer to you, it is probably too close for you to start to pass.
How to pass:
Never drive off the paved or main-traveled portion of the road or on the shoulder to pass. The edge of the main-traveled portion of the road may have a painted white line on the road’s surface. Passing other vehicles at crossroads, railroad crossings, and driveways is dangerous.
Pass traffic on the left. You may pass on the right only when:
- An open highway is clearly marked for two or more lanes of travel in your direction.
- The driver ahead of you is turning left and you do not drive off the road- way to pass. Never pass on the left if the driver is signaling a left turn.
- On a one-way street.
Always signal before passing. You may also lightly tap your horn, or briefly flash your lights, to let the other driver know you intend to pass. Do not pull out to pass unless you know you have enough space to pull back into your lane.
Avoid passing other vehicles, including motorcycles and bicycles, on two-lane roads; it is dangerous. Every time you pass, you increase your chances of having a collision. When you pass a bicyclist, be patient. Slow down and pass the bicyclist only when safe, allowing for a minimum of 3 feet between your vehicle and the bicyclist where possible. Do not squeeze the bicyclist off the road.
At highway speeds of 50–55 mph, you need a 10–12 second gap in on- coming traffic to pass safely. At 55 mph, you will travel over 800 feet in 10–12 seconds; so will an oncoming vehicle. That means you need over 1,600 feet (about ⅓ of a mile) to pass safely. It is harder to see and judge the speed of oncoming vehicles that are traveling ⅓ of a mile or more away from you.
Returning to a Lane After Passing
Before you return to your driving lane, be sure you are not dangerously close to the vehicle you have just passed. One way to do this is to look for the vehicle in your inside rearview mirror. When you can see both headlights in your rearview mirror, you may have enough room to return to your driving lane. Do not count on having enough time to pass several vehicles at once or that other drivers will make room for you.
If a vehicle is passing you, or has signaled intent to pass, you should avoid accelerating and maintain your lane position to allow the vehicle to pass you. Do not accelerate or try to go faster to avoid being passed.