The average American motorist puts about 13,500 miles on his or her car each year — and those miles add up. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 2011, motorists traveled more than 84.7 billion miles on California interstates alone. To put that in perspective, you would have to travel from Earth to the sun more than 900 times to cover the same distance. Taken as a whole, our nation’s highways saw 2.95 trillion miles of traffic that same year, which is nearly twice the distance vehicles traveled in 1980.
As you can imagine, states with the highest populations often have the busiest roadways. California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan are home to the busiest interstates in the country, according to a report by the Federal Highway Administration. And, with the exception of Virginia, the top 10 busiest interstates fall in line with population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Regardless of where you live – or how many miles you’ve traveled – it’s important to drive safely. So, when you hit the interstate, keep these highway driving safety tips in mind:
It may seem like a no-brainer, but with so many cars on the road, it’s wise to be courteous to other motorists and mindful of all traffic laws. Travel at the posted speed limit in good conditions, and adjust your speed when the going gets rough. Factors like ice, rain and snow, as well as construction and bumper-to-bumper traffic, are all indicators that you may need to slow down.
Nobody likes being tailgated, and if the driver in front of you has to come to a quick stop, following too closely could have dangerous consequences. That’s why it’s important to maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead of you. You may need to increase the distance between your car and the vehicle ahead of you if it is a motorcycle, for example, as they can come to a stop more quickly than heavier vehicles. And, you may also need to do the same if it’s raining or snowing, as it can take your car longer to stop on slick roads.
On many highways, the left lane is considered the passing lane, so if you’re not overtaking a slower-moving vehicle, stay in the right lane. Some interstates have signs posted to enforce this rule, and in some cases you could be pulled over and ticketed if you’re camping out in the left lane.
A good view from the driver’s seat will help ensure your safety, and it’s also important to make sure that other drivers can see you. Turn on your headlights when the sun sets or whenever you use your windshield wipers, and make sure that your windshield, windows and all exterior lights are clean.
Good road manners start with you, so don’t get distracted by things like your smartphone, and give the highway your undivided attention. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, too. Stop to stretch every couple hours and avoid drowsy driving. If you’re yawning or starting to drift between lanes, that’s probably a sign that you should be getting some shut-eye instead of driving.
Whether you’re a seasoned driver just looking to brush up on your skills, or a new motorist getting ready for your first road trip, following these tips will help keep you safe on our busy highways.