California Driver Handbook

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Section 20 of 28

Vehicle Positioning

Following Distances

Suppose you are on a two-lane road with an oncoming vehicle approaching and a bicyclist ahead to your right. Instead of driving between the vehicle and the bicyclist, take one danger at a time. First, slow down and let the oncoming vehicle pass. Then, when it is safe, move to the left to allow plenty of room (at least 3 feet) to pass the bicyclist.

Persons Who Present Dangers to Drivers

Increase your following distance and allow a bigger space cushion for drivers who may be potentially dangerous. Persons who present dangers are:

  • Drivers who cannot see you because their view is blocked by buildings, trees, or other cars.
  • Drivers backing out of driveways or parking spaces.
  • Drivers who pass you when there is a curve or oncoming vehicle(s) ahead.
  • Drivers about to be forced into your lane to avoid a vehicle, pedestrian, bicyclist, obstruction, or because of fewer lanes ahead.
  • Pedestrians with umbrellas in front of their faces or hats pulled down over their eyes.
  • Distracted people, such as:
    • Delivery persons.
    • Construction workers.
    • Distracted pedestrians, such as those talking or texting on their electronic wireless communications device.
    • Children, who often run into the street without looking.
    • Drivers talking or texting on their electronic wireless communications device or speaking to their passengers.
    • Drivers taking care of children, eating, or looking at maps while driving.
  • Confused people, such as:
    • Tourists, often at complicated intersections.
    • Drivers who are looking for a house number or slow down for no apparent reason.

Splitting the Difference

Sometimes there will be dangers on both sides of the road at the same time. For example, there will be parked cars to the right and oncoming cars to the left. In this case, the best thing to do is “split the difference.” Steer a middle course between the oncoming cars and the parked cars.

If one danger is greater than the other, give the most room to the most dangerous situation. Suppose there are oncoming cars on your left side and a child on a bike on your right side. The child is more likely to make a sudden move. Therefore, slow down and, if safe, use as much of your lane to the left as possible until you pass the child.

Space to Merge

Enter the freeway at or near the speed of traffic. Do not stop before merging into freeway traffic, unless it is absolutely necessary. Freeway traffic has the right-of-way. When it is safe, follow the “3-second rule” (refer to the “Do not be a tailgater!” section).

  • Do not try to merge 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

When crossing or entering city or highway traffic from a full stop, signal, and leave a large enough gap to get up to the speed of other vehicles. You must share the space with traffic already on the road. It is important to know how much space you need for merging, crossing, entering, and exiting out of traffic. 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).

Passing

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 bridge, tunnel, railroad crossing, or areas that could cause concern.

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 roadway 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. Every time you pass, you increase your chances of having a collision. When you pass a bicyclist, 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.

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.

Being Passed

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.