When I Exit a Controlled Access Highway from the Right Lane

Last Edited: November 9, 2016 // by TruckerScape, Inc.

When I Exit the Right Lane of a Controlled Access Highway to a Minor Highway or Surface Street

My exits from the right lane on the open road (typically on interstates or major highways with two or more lanes in each direction, in sparse traffic, usually in rural areas) onto smaller minor and back highways and surface streets are usually straightforward.

For each of the two directions of travel on interstates and other major highways, many smaller highways and surface streets have single ramps for vehicles exiting onto them and single access ramps for returning vehicles back onto the interstates and major highways.  Single exit ramps typically provide entry to both directions on these highways and streets.  In both directions of travel on interstates and major highways, exit ramps are often on the near side of these highways and streets.  This enables personal vehicles and trucks to reach the exit ramps without first mixing with emerging vehicles and crossing over (or under) these highways and streets.

So taking such exits on the open road is relatively easy for me and other drivers.  The difference between my approaches and those of personal vehicles is that I have to signal early and slow down well in advance of the ramps.  This is to be sure that I can enter and negotiate ramps at safe speeds and adjust for traffic ahead of me and other conditions.

There is one riskier situation that a personal vehicle driver can get into on the open road when entering or preparing to exit an interstate or major highway via these single ramps.  When I move to the left lane to pass a vehicle in the right lane or to ease the entry of a vehicle coming off one of these ramps into the right lane, the driver sometimes speeds up and then settles in the right lane alongside my truck.  I’ll be expecting him to advance (hopefully briskly) through the risk zones on my right including the final one in front of my truck (see the Risk Zone:  Close in Front of My Truck and in the Right Lane Next to Mine tip).  An exception would be if he takes the next exit on the right.

Other Basic Constraints in All Exits

There are other constraints that I have to deal with in all of my exits.  By entering at a careful speed, I won’t have to brake so hard that the freight load in my trailer shifts or topples.  Pallet stacks of soda or other liquids are particularly susceptible to collapsing.  Curves on ramps are often sharp, so it is possible to roll a truck if its speed is not slow enough.  Icy or snow covered ramps can be treacherous, with trucks as well as personal vehicles sliding off the curves.

Next, I have to be able to stop for traffic backups as vehicles ahead of me enter the second highway.  If I’m taking an exit to a minor or back highway or surface street, the exit typically ends at a stoplight, stop sign or yield sign.  I have to be able to come to a complete stop as necessary for these intersections and for vehicles in front of my truck that are stopped at them.

Finally, slowing down in the right lane before reaching an exit ramp helps avoid rear ending any drivers who cut in front of my truck to take exits ahead of me.  You can help keep both of us safe by understanding my truck’s limitations and patiently maintaining a safe distance behind me rather than racing to the exit in front of me.

Engine Brake Use

To slow down for most exits, I will use my truck’s engine brake as well as the service brakes.  Cities and towns may prohibit engine brake use on their downhill sections of freeways and other highways and on certain exits.  To take noise restricted exits, I may slow my approach even more than usual.

There are also downhill grades on the open road with engine brake noise restrictions requested by residents living along the highway.  In such areas, descending truck drivers have to gear down enough to use service brakes alone without overheating them. These constraints can create risky situations for truck drivers who have to control their speeds under heavy loads.  Overheating brakes from overuse is dangerous as well as damaging to brake parts and tires.  Even when engine brakes are permitted, you can often smell hot brakes at the bottom of grades.

Steep exit ramps off downhill grades compound speed control requirements.  Warning signs and posted reduced speed limits prepare drivers for these exits.  It becomes doubly important that personal vehicle drivers not cut in front of trucks taking them.  For these exits, it would seem that muffled engine brakes, at least, should be permitted.

Close Encounters with My Truck

On multi-lane city freeways and other major highways, I still work to get in the right lane well ahead of my exits, signal early and enter the ramps at safe speeds.  However, safe maneuvers and exits are not so routine in denser traffic.  One fairly common incident I’ve experienced is when I’ve been in the right lane and a driver in a lane to my left has suddenly swerved in front of my truck to enter an exit ramp.  While a few drivers may be surprised by an unanticipated ramp approach, others evidently don’t want to pull over behind my truck and wait for it to clear the ramp entrance (see the Cutting in Front of Me tip).

A hazardous situation develops when a driver exiting close in front of my truck discovers that the ramp is short or curvy or congested and has to brake hard as he enters, forcing me to brake hard as well.  That’s what happened to me for example, on a trip through Knoxville, TN one afternoon.  In that case, after cutting into the right lane in front of me the driver braked hard before entering the exit ramp.  The weather and road conditions were fine and the ramp was straight and unoccupied but down-sloping.  The driver was in a new high performance convertible and should have been comfortable holding off on the brake until on the ramp, but just seemed oblivious to the danger of my truck a few feet behind her vehicle.

Truck lane laws permitting (in dense traffic areas trucks are often prohibited in left lanes in the absence of left exits), I sometimes move to a lane to the left of the right lane to pass slower vehicles and avoid the “churn” (exits and entrances of vehicles) on the right.  To return to the right lane in preparation for an exit, I have to find a break in traffic large enough to safely fit and then signal my way into it, or signal and wait for vehicles to clear that lane.  In the latter case, a few drivers fail to notice and/or to respond to my signal quickly and then I may have to slow down to let them get past my truck.  My truck’s governed speed and slow acceleration usually prevent me from getting ahead of them before I reach my exit.

An even riskier situation is possible when I’m in the lane to the left of the right (exit) lane.  A driver rushing to an exit by swerving two or more lanes from my left across my lane to the right lane may suddenly be blocked by a vehicle passing my truck in the right lane.  The ensuing maneuver to avoid a collision by that driver with the vehicle in the right lane could result in an accident with my truck.  It is important that you allow for my truck hiding vehicles in the right lane from your vision.

Conversely, a few drivers passing me on the right then hurry to move left to my lane or a lane to my left (see the Passing Me on the Right and the Risk Zone tips).  Since my truck hides vehicles on my left from them, they can also be surprised as they cut left in front of my truck.  The worst situation would of course be meeting a vehicle rushing to an exit ramp from my left.

Takeaways

On the open road if a truck has moved to the left lane to let you enter the right lane alongside it, accelerate to a safe distance in front (beyond your lead threshold) or slide back behind it as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so.

When alongside a truck on a multi-lane city freeway or other major highway, stay alert and prepared to move out of its way if the driver signals to move to your lane.

When approaching your exit behind a truck that is slowing down to take the same exit, maintain a safe distance behind it rather than racing to the exit in front of it.

Increase your lead distance (lead threshold) in front of trucks on downhill grades with engine brake restrictions.

When you rush from a lane on one side of a truck to take an exit close in front of it, you risk a rear end collision if you have to brake for some problem on the ramp.

On multi-lane city freeways and other major highways, when you rush from a lane on one side of a truck close across its front to a lane on its far side, you risk meeting another vehicle on its far side that could result in an accident with that vehicle and/or the truck.

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