A freeway is typically an Interstate highway. On a freeway, there is total access control, meaning no intersections, no signals, and no curb-cuts. Vehicles enter and leave the roadway only by way of on-ramps and off-ramps with acceleration and deceleration lanes. Typically, freeway drivers do not have to contend with pedestrians. The nation’s roadway system runs nearly four million miles. There are more than 870 miles of Interstate highways in Kansas.
Freeway driving requires special skills. Drivers are often asked to make complex decisions at crucial moments while driving at high speeds.
HELPING YOU DRIVE: Safe. Not Sorry.
Several critical factors come into play once you enter a highway. Understanding what they are can help you avoid being a victim or responsible for causing a crash.
- Merging Techniques
- Lane Changes
- Pavement Markings
- Driving Transitions
- Road Signs
- Other Drivers (distracted drivers, drunk drivers, drowsy drivers, elderly
drivers, young drivers, aggressive drivers, mentally unstable drivers)
Let’s look briefly at some of these:
ENTERING A FREEWAY: Speed Up
Common courtesy is a major contributor to keeping traffic flowing smoothly and to avoiding crashes. This is especially true as cars attempt to enter a freeway where other traffic is already traveling at 70 miles an hour or more.
Usually the entrance ramp serves as an acceleration lane. Sometimes, special acceleration lanes are provided on the freeway itself. They are set off from the regular freeway lane by a solid white line followed by a dashed white line. Both ramps and acceleration lanes are designed to allow vehicles to increase their speed to match freeway driving speed. Use ramps and acceleration lanes to get up to cruising speed before you attempt to blend into the traffic flow.
Drivers on the freeway should cooperate by creating safe gaps that make it easier for entering vehicles to merge. But remember, it’s you who must YIELD to approaching vehicles as you attempt to enter the freeway.
SPEED: Not Too Fast
Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit on Interstates crossing through Kansas is 70 mph; the minimum speed is 40 mph. But how fast you drive is tied to common sense. Use good judgment when traffic, weather or road conditions call for slower speeds.
FOLLOWING OTHER VEHICLES: Not Too Close
- The law requires you to keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the
one in front of you. Weather, road conditions and traffic can influence this
- Don’t ride the bumper of the vehicle in front of you, even if you want to
pass it. Following too closely is called tailgating. It’s illegal and could
be considered aggressive driving.
- Use the Two-Second Rule for measuring safe following distance.
Here’s how it works: Watch the vehicle in front of you. When the rear of the vehicle passes a reference point, like a sign or telephone pole, count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two." If you pass the same spot before you finish counting, you’re following too closely.
- Don’t intentionally drive in another vehicle’s blind spot. You’re in the
blind spot if you’re near the other vehicle’s left or right rear fender.
- Try not to follow the same vehicle or group of vehicles for a long distance;
doing so lulls you into thinking that the car ahead poses no possible danger.
PASSING OTHER VEHICLES: Be Careful
- Safe passing depends on cooperation between drivers. So do not speed up
when someone is trying to pass you.
- Drive in the right-most lane when driving on freeways, except when passing
another vehicle. If you drive in the left-most lane for an extended period,
you may create conflicts with other vehicles by impeding fast-moving traffic
or vehicles that are trying to pass. Be a courteous driver and let others
- If you’re the one passing, don’t cut back in too soon. Quick movements at
high speed can be fatal. A safe rule is to be sure that you can see the other
vehicle in your rearview mirror before you cut back in front of it. This is
especially true when you pass large trucks. To pass safely, wait until you
can see both truck headlights in your rearview mirror. In addition to looking
in your rearview mirror, always look over your shoulder to make sure it’s
safe to move over; don’t rely on your passenger-side mirror. The warning on
your side mirror is there for a reason—objects are closer than they appear.
- You may pass on the left or right, as long as you stay on the pavement when
you pass on the right. It is illegal to drive up onto the shoulder of the
road to pass on the right side of another vehicle. On multi-lane highways,
slower vehicles should keep right.
- Be aware of a truck’s "deaf spot." Partial vacuum often prevents
the truck driver from hearing your horn.
CHANGING LANES: Think and Look
Always think and look before changing lanes on a multi-lane highway. Absent-minded lane changing is very dangerous. While the white lines are there to help—good sense, alertness and courtesy are up to you. When changing lanes remember:
- Every vehicle has BLIND SPOTS or areas that are out of view of your mirrors.
For safe lane changing, use you mirrors and glance over your shoulder to check
your blind spots.
- Try to stay out of the blind spots of other vehicles. Use special care with
trucks, buses and other large vehicles, which have larger blind spots than
cars do. Remember that when you approach these vehicles from directly behind,
as well as from either side, especially near their rear bumpers. In these
blind spots, the driver can’t see your vehicle in any rearview mirror, so
don’t linger beside a truck or bus when you are passing.
- Never change lanes where there isn’t a safe gap in traffic.
- Your vehicle is equipped with turn signals. Use them…whenever you enter
or leave the freeway and whenever you change lanes. You can be ticketed if
you don’t. Even worse, you endanger yourself and others in your car and on
- When it’s raining, snowing, sleeting or foggy, remember to turn on your
headlights. This safety precaution enables other drivers to see you more easily
in conditions that hamper visibility.
DRIVING AT NIGHT: Watch those Headlights
Headlights—not parking lights—must be on when traveling on the freeway from sunset to sunrise. Driving at night poses special risks. For starters, you can’t see nearly as far at night as you can during the day. So, be careful not to "overdrive" your headlights. Here are a few things to remember:
- Always use low-beam lights when approaching other vehicles so you don’t
blind the driver. Also use low-beams when driving in rain, fog and when following
another car closely.
- Use high-beam lights only when driving in the open country without other
- Avoid looking directly into the headlights of oncoming vehicles as you can
be temporarily "blinded" by their brightness. Instead, look at the
right-hand edge of the road.
FREEWAY MARKINGS: Lines
Here are what the pavement markings you see on the freeway mean:
- A single solid yellow line indicates the left edge of a roadway.
- Single broken white lines separate lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- Single solid white lines indicate the right edge of the pavement.
- These are permissive lines, alerting drivers they may pass or change lanes.
- These are restrictive lines. No passing, no crossing.
- These indicate maximum restrictions.
WORK ZONES: Patience, Patience
The bulk of our interstate highway system was built in the 1950’s and 60’s. Those roads are aging and in need of repair, replacement or improvement in some places. Millions will be spent to improve our nation’s roadways and bridges over the next few years. Those improvements bring with them an increase in the number of road construction sites…and that generally means delays.
In a typical year, the state of Kansas has more than 500 highway projects underway. Municipalities throughout the state also have numerous construction sites on their local roadways. As a result, drivers are likely to encounter a variety of work zone conditions, including narrow lanes, concrete barriers, uneven pavement, slow moving equipment and loose gravel. Because of their temporary nature, these areas can surprise a motorist. The color orange is designated for most signs, barrels and barricades used in these areas.
It’s important that you use patience in work zones because, each year, more than 700 people are killed and 37,000 injured nationwide in crashes that occur in work zones. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the combination of high speeds and congestion is the leading cause of crashes on urban interstates, followed by the failure to remain alert while driving. As a result, one in three work zone crashes is a rear-end collision.
What Can You Do?
- Plan. Forewarned is forearmed. Before leaving on a trip, check out road
conditions. In Kansas, the Kansas Department of Transportation provides road
condition information on its website. You can find it at www.kanroad.org.
You can also call the Kansas Road Condition Hotline at 1-800-585-ROAD. They
can warn you about any road construction along your route. Be sure to allow
yourself extra travel time if there are work zones on your planned route.
- Be cautious. Lanes are likely to be closed in work zones and traffic patterns
changed as the work progresses. Watch for detour and lane diversion signs.
When you see orange signs or barrels, be especially alert, reduce your speed
and be aware that there may be flaggers, workers, machinery and adverse road
conditions ahead. Observe all work zone warning signs.
- Pay attention to flaggers in orange vests directing traffic. In a work zone,
a flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so you can be cited
for disobeying his or her directions.
- Keep a safe distance between your vehicle, other vehicles, traffic barriers,
construction workers and equipment. (Extra caution is required when driving
in an active work zone at night.)
- Merge at the first notice of a lane closure or change. Resist the urge to
"jockey for position" as you approach or leave a work zone.
- Avoid distractions. Don’t use a cell phone, refill your coffee cup or change
radio stations, tapes or CD’s.
- Keep your cool. Avoid yelling or directing obscene gestures at the work
crew or other vehicles traveling with you through the area.
- Don’t tailgate. It won’t make the car ahead of you go any faster. It also
reduces your reaction time and increases your chance of rear-ending the car
in front of you.
- Be patient. Reducing your speed from 60 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour
in a two-mile work zone delays your trip by only one minute.
- Don’t take it personally. People make mistakes; most times they just aren’t
thinking when they do something that irritates you. For many individuals,
driving through narrow lanes lined with concrete walls on each side makes
them nervous and causes them to slow down.
Here’s The Law:
Kansas law requires you to obey all signs in work zones.
Many states double or triple the fine for a moving violation in work zones, whether or not workers are on site. Some states even require jail time and/or community service for violations in work zones.
In Kansas, fines in work zones are doubled. If you are ticketed driving just 10 miles an hour over the speed limit in a work zone, you will pay at least $114 in fines and court costs.
LEAVING THE FREEWAY: Slow Down
When you’re ready to leave the freeway, indicate your intent to do so by using your turn signals well before you move into the deceleration lane. The deceleration lane helps motorists who are leaving a freeway reduce their speed to make a safe exit. Deceleration lanes are often set off by short, dashed white lines and will always lead you to an exit ramp. Do remember, however, that the length of deceleration lanes vary from road to road. Be sure to look for advisory signs that tell you the safe speed for the exit ramp. These will be much lower than those on the freeway, so be ready to slow down.
MORE ABOUT SPEED: How Fast Is Too Fast?
You’ve probably heard the saying, "Speed kills." Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Speed doesn’t kill. It’s coming to a sudden stop by making contact with another object that kills. In a crash or sudden stop, your body keeps moving forward at the same speed your car was traveling when something stopped it. Safety belts and air bags are designed to spread the force of the impact and prevent you from colliding with the interior of your vehicle.
Still, collisions at speeds as slow as 12 miles per hour have been known to kill.
Freeway speed limits in Kansas are 70 mph, unless otherwise posted. The minimum speed is 40 mph. You are not required to drive at the maximum speed limit. Use common sense when rain, snow or ice are on the road. Even wind can be a factor. Winds on the open plains can affect a driver’s control, especially with high-profile vehicles like trucks, trailers and vans. When these conditions are present, slow down.
When you’re driving long distances, remember to vary your speed from time to time to prevent monotony and road hypnosis. Driving at the same speed for a prolonged time and distance dulls the senses and makes a driver accident-prone.
Speed is also a factor when it comes to your ability to stop your car safely. The faster you drive, the longer it takes to stop AND the greater the impact or "striking power" of your vehicle. For instance, you might think that it takes twice as long to stop when you double your speed from 20 to 40 miles per hour. WRONG! It takes four times longer! And the impact at 40 miles per hour is four times greater that it is at 20 miles per hour. If you triple your speed from 20 to 60, the impact and braking distance are nine times greater. At 80 miles per hour, the impact and braking distance are 16 times greater.
When you’re driving, be conscious of your speed and how long it will take you to actually stop your vehicle.
FREEWAY BREAKDOWNS: What If?
What if your vehicle breaks down on a freeway? First and foremost, do not leave your vehicle stopped in a traffic lane. Get off the road on the right shoulder, if at all possible. Be especially careful at night when there is a greater chance of being hit from behind. Stay calm.
- Be sure you’re at least far enough off the road on the right shoulder that
you can open the door without stepping out into traffic.
- Turn on your emergency flashers.
- Raise your vehicle’s hood. This is a nationally-recognized distress sign
that communicates your need for assistance. Also, display any signs you may
have that indicate you need help (like a sun shade with a distress message).
- If you have a cell phone—use it. If not, remain with your vehicle. It’s
very likely another motorist will report your problem to the police. Avoid
getting into a vehicle with a stranger.
- If you break down during a storm or in very cold weather, there is more
- Don’t try to walk to nearest town or farm (especially in a storm).
- Conserve body heat by keeping dry; damp clothes lose their insulation
- Open a down-wind window a crack to keep some fresh air coming in, particularly
if you have your heater running. It’s better to be chilly and awake than
warm and slipping into unconsciousness due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Use your heater sparingly.
- If you must leave the vehicle, write a note. State your name, a phone
number and name of a person to contact, the time and day you left and
which direction you are walking.
Be Prepared For Problems
The old Scout motto certainly applies to driving. It helps to "be prepared" for any situation. Here’s how:
- Keep items in the vehicle such as flares, flashlights, blankets and a first
aid kit. Mobile phones become valuable safety tools during breakdown situations.
Have water available in hot climates, especially for children and pets.
- Know where items such as your spare tire, jack and other tools are in the
vehicle and know how to use them.
ANTI-LOCK BRAKES: A Different System
Many of today’s cars are equipped with anti-lock braking systems, often referred to as ABS.
How They Work:
- An anti-lock braking system monitors wheel speed, senses impending wheel
lock, and adjusts braking force accordingly to avoid skidding.
- An ABS reduces the likelihood of vehicle skidding, allowing you to maintain
steering control during braking.
- An ABS does not allow drivers to drive faster or follow other vehicles more
closely than a car with a standard brake system.
- An ABS "feels" different to drivers. Noise and vibration of the
brake pedal and steering wheel is normal for some ABS.
- Many drivers think they have anti-lock brakes, but actually do not. Check
your owner’s manual to see what kind of brake system you have.
- If you DO have an ABS, remember: the brakes work differently than a standard
- Drivers traditionally were taught to pump their brakes for standard brake
systems. With an ABS, you must keep your foot firmly pressed on the brake
pedal while braking. The system is designed to allow you to steer while braking
to avoid a collision.
- Practice braking with the ABS so you won’t instinctively revert to the pumping
action and ignore ABS steering capabilities during emergency braking. But
practice where you won’t collide with other vehicles or fixed objects (like
in an empty parking lot).
ROAD MARKINGS: Signs
Road signs—they’re there to make your travel safer and easier, to alert you, warn you, guide you, protect you. Learning about the shapes, colors and symbols of different signs can help you decipher their meaning and put you more in control on any roadway.
Some signs like STOP and YIELD are so important that they have their own distinctive color and shape. Other, entire groups of signs share similar colors and shapes.
||Railroad crossing, only
||No passing zone, only
||Special purpose or regulatory
||Stop, yield or prohibition
||Construction and maintenance warning
||Guidance, indicates directional information
||Motorist service facilities, like service stations, motels,
||Public recreation or cultural interest
Signs used at pedestrian, bicycle and school crossings have a new color. Watch
for it. It’s called FLUORESCENT YELLOW-GREEN. Its bright color makes it easy
to see. Whenever you see this sign, be especially cautious because it means
there are pedestrians and bicyclists nearby.
HIGHWAY MARKING SIGNS
- White background, black numerals = U.S. Highways
- Yellow background, black numerals = Kansas Highways
- Red & blue background, white reflective numerals
- Green background, white reflective letters = Turnpike
OTHER SIGNAGE TIPS
Left Exit: Most freeway exit ramps go
off to the right, but sometimes there is a left exit. Exiting from the left
requires extra-caution because that’s the lane where vehicles travel at higher
speeds. To help give you some advance warning an exit ramp is to the left, the
sign sometimes says "Left Exit."
Another tip: when the exit number panel
is on the left, then the exit will also be on the left. Knowing how to read
the position of the panel gives you a little extra time to position yourself
in the left lane. If you ever miss your exit—either right or left—don’t back
up. Go to the next exit. If you take a wrong exit, don’t stop. Both of these
behaviors are primary causes of rear end collisions. It is illegal in Kansas
to make a U-turn on an Interstate freeway. Unfortunately, some drivers in recent
years have attempted to make U-turns on freeways, behavior that resulted in
Chevron Signs: These signs warn of a
sharp curve in the road ahead. Be alert for changes in the posted speed limit
and follow it so you can slow down adequately to safely maneuver the curve.
Merge and Lane-added Signs: These signs
look somewhat similar, but are in fact quite different.
- A MERGE warning signs alerts you that traffic entering the freeway will
be merging with the freeway traffic.
- A LANE-ADDED sign tells you traffic entering the freeway does NOT have to
merge because the "on" ramp becomes an added freeway lane.
UNDERSTANDING INTERSTATE NUMBERING
Signs. Numbers. Markings. Sometimes it can get a little confusing…at least until you realize signs are communicating with you…letting you know where you are all the time. The better you get at reading these messages, the better driver and safer traveler you’ll be. So, get the picture, listen to the signs.
The Interstate Numbering System
When you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory, Interstate numbers in the U.S. provide valuable clues about your location and direction…if you know how to read them. Here’s how:
- One- or two-digit, even-numbered Interstates are always east-west routes.
The numbers increase from south (I-10) to north (I-94).
- One- or two-digit, odd-numbered Interstates are always north-south routes.
Numbers increase from the West Coast (I-5) to the East Coast (I-95).
Interstate highways with three-digit numbers connect to other major highways.
- If the first of the three digits is an even number, the highway usually
connects to another Interstate at both ends—often in a circular "beltway"
or loop. Like Interstate 470 in Kansas, or Interstate 435 and 635 in Kansas
- If the first of the three digits is an odd number, the highway is usually
a "spur" route that connects with an Interstate at only one end,
sometimes going into a city center. Like Interstate 135 in Kansas.
Have you ever noticed those small markers along the side of Interstate highways? Usually, they’re green or white and have the word "Mile" along with a number. Some just have the number. They’re called mile markers and are used as reference points along the highway.
These "mile markers" show the number of miles from where the route entered the state you’re driving in. The counting always starts at the state line in the south (for north-south routes) and in the west (for east-west routes). So mile marker numbers always get larger as you drive east or north—and get smaller as you travel west or south.
Knowing how to read mile markers can help you:
- Know exactly where you are
- Determine how far it is to your destination
- Give an exact location if you have to call for roadside assistance
In fact, in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, special mile markers have been installed to help motorists pinpoint their exact location on the interstate. Instead of being posted only every mile, these special markers appear every two-tenths of a mile and display the name of the Interstate, the direction of travel, and the mileage in two-tenth increments.
INTERCHANGES AND MILE MARKERS
Kansas links Interstate interchange numbers to mile markers, so the number on the mile marker is the same as the number of the Interstate exit or interchange. Exit 23 will be at or very close to Mile 23. This is an important navigational aid. For example, if your destination is Exit 45, and you just passed mile marker 15, you know you’re 30 miles away from your destination.
Other states may use a different system. Watch the exit and mile marker numbers to see if they match.
THE GREATEST ROAD THREAT: Yourself
You may not realize it, but you pose the greatest danger to yourself and other drivers. Most crashes are due to driver error, not the highway. And it only takes a split second of driver inattention for a crash to occur.
You say you always pay close attention while driving? Well let’s see.
Have you ever talked on your cell phone while driving? Eaten food? Read the newspaper? Read directions to someplace you were trying to go? Blared the radio or tape player? Chit-chatted with other passengers in your car? Shaved? Put on make up? Combed your hair? Bent down to pick something up off the floor? Lit a cigarette? Rode with a pet on your lap?
You get the idea.
Just remember, when you’re driving, your focus needs to be on your driving. A split-second distraction can cause you to run off the road, rear-end a vehicle that has come to a sudden stop, swerve into the next lane any number of things.
Here’s a scary statistic: one crash occurs every seven seconds in the United States. By the time you find and answer your cell phone, a crash has occurred somewhere. Make sure it’s not you.
Cell phones are nice conveniences, but can potentially be deadly. Use them in an emergency, not just to chitchat with friends. Remember, if possible, it is safest to pull off on the right shoulder if you must use your cell phone.
OK, we all have to eat…but don’t do it while driving down the road. Searching for that napkin, trying to open that ketchup container or the split second you take to grab a French fry is all it takes.
Blaring music can prevent you from being able to hear sirens from emergency vehicles, train whistles and the horns of other drivers who may be trying to alert you.
Lighting up or putting out a cigarette can distract you. So can flicking hot ashes on yourself or getting smoke in your eyes. If you smoke while you drive, be especially careful and realize its potential to distract you.
Slowing down to look at accidents, police cars that have pulled someone over, even at articles for sale along the road can cause crashes. Slowing down can affect the driver behind you, who might also be rubbernecking and not realize your car has slowed down.
Empty pop cans. CD’s. Books. Come to a quick stop and these and similar items start rolling around. If something happens to lodge beneath your brake pedal or your gas pedal, it can become a disastrous situation. Check your car before you drive. Remove or secure any loose articles, which can become projectiles in the event of a crash.
Children and Pets
Dealing with children and/or pets can be extremely distracting, especially if they are crying, fighting, barking and the like. Insist children are buckled securely in their seat belts (or if under the age of four in their child seat). Separate older children if necessary to keep them from squabbling. Provide them with a book to read or a game to play if they are going to be in the car for an extended period. In the case of pets, always use a pet carrier. Nothing can be more frightening—or dangerous—than to have a pet suddenly jump in your lap and impede your ability to steer or see.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
You may be alone in your car, but you’re never alone on the freeway. You share that little strip of pavement with a multitude of vehicles—cars, pickups, 18-wheelers, motorcycles and recreational vehicles. You also share it with a multitude of people and their various personalities, preferences, habits and idiosyncrasies. Some forgot their glasses and aren’t seeing too well that day; others had three or four drinks at dinner and are driving under the influence; still others may have smoked marijuana or snorted some cocaine before they got behind the wheel. You just never know. Maybe the woman next to you just lost her job, and the man in front of you just had a fight with his son. The driver on your right just got his license and has only been driving for two weeks.
All these people are out there with you and their ability to drive is affected by numerous factors, physical and emotional. One of the most dangerous drivers out there is the aggressive driver. Governed either by a lack of courtesy and common sense, or by a physical (drugs or alcohol) or emotional situation, this driver puts you in danger.
Unfortunately, most of us have encountered this driver.
His or her behavior includes:
- Running stop signs and red lights
- Speeding, tailgating and weaving between lanes
- Cutting in front of other drivers
- Passing on the right shoulder
- Making inappropriate hand and facial gestures
- Screaming, honking the horn, and flashing headlights
How To Handle An Aggressive Driver
- The smartest thing to do: move out of the aggressive driver’s way.
- Do not challenge an aggressive driver by speeding up or attempting to "hold
your own" in the travel lane.
- Avoid eye contact.
- Ignore gestures and refuse to return them.
- Report aggressive drivers to the appropriate authorities by providing a
vehicle description, license number, location and direction of travel.
- If you have a cell phone, call the police. In Kansas, you can contact the
Highway Patrol by dialing *47 on your cell phone or *KTA if you’re on the
- If an aggressive driver is involved in a crash farther down the road, stop
at a safe distance from the scene, wait for police to arrive and report the
driving behavior you witnessed earlier.