When You Enter the Right Lane of a Controlled Access Highway

Last Edited: November 13, 2016 // by TruckerScape, Inc.

Basics

Vehicles already on a highway have the right of way, and this rule is especially important when the highway traffic flow is at or near highway speeds.  The problem is that personal vehicle drivers may not behave according to that rule when entering a controlled access highway (an interstate, city freeway or other major highway, typically with two or more lanes in each direction and entry and exit restricted to specific interchanges).  Some personal vehicle drivers entering a controlled access highway from the right seem to think that truck drivers in the right lane are obligated to change lanes to the left for them.

Though we do accommodate many drivers in that fashion, we don’t change lanes in every situation.  Traffic, weather, road surface, relative positions and speeds of the vehicles on the ramps and other considerations affect our actions.  Therefore, it is safest to assume that I will not move over for you.  Since my truck cannot maneuver as nimbly as your vehicle, it is safest to plan to maneuver around me, and adjust your merge according to what I do.

As I approach entrance ramps on my right I can usually see vehicles travelling on them.  I try to anticipate their entrance, whether they will enter in front of, alongside or behind my truck.  If I’m in the right lane, I may in fact move to the next lane to my left if traffic and other conditions permit.  This is obviously the easiest way to give both truck and personal vehicle drivers more space in which to merge.  It also allows me to maintain my truck’s speed.

When You Enter the Right Lane of a Controlled Access Highway in Dense Traffic

There are situations in which I am less likely to change lanes for you.  Vehicles alongside or close to my truck may not permit a safe lane change.  This constraint is common in heavier traffic such as on city freeways.  If I project that you will merge from the entrance ramp into the right lane in front of me, I will prepare to slow down to give you room and help keep you safe.  By accelerating briskly, you can help me minimize braking and conserve fuel.

If you come to the ramp end and are alongside the rear section of my truck (from the tail to the trailer tandems at their full forward position), I expect you to slow down and merge behind my trailer.  This is because it will take me too long to slow down enough to enable you to pass the length of my truck and then merge in front of me.  Some drivers in high performance vehicles nevertheless take the risk and punch (accelerate hard) ahead of me.

The most awkward and potentially dangerous situation occurs when you are approaching the end of the entrance ramp alongside the section of my trailer extending from the midships (middle, alongside the trailer’s midships turn signal/emergency flasher light) to the front (alongside the trailer headwall and just behind my tractor’s drive wheels), and traffic blocks me from changing lanes for you.  Then you have three choices:

First, you can brake immediately and merge behind my truck (the safest and preferred move).  Second, you can punch your vehicle (accelerate hard) and merge in front of my truck.  The risks with this choice are that you may have to squeeze between the front of my truck and other vehicles close in front of me and/or avoid colliding with personal vehicle drivers cutting in front of me from a left lane to reach an exit ramp (see the Cutting in Front of Me tip).  The third choice is to drive alongside my truck on the rumble strip (shoulder) until I can change lanes or brake to let you merge in front of me.  The problems with this choice are that the shoulder is not always wide enough and may contain destructive debris such as blown truck tire fragments.

In this merge situation, if I don’t see you slowing down I will start to brake.  But it is entirely possible that as I start to brake, you also brake.  Then you can be trapped alongside the same section of my truck until you slow down enough to merge behind it or I slow down enough to allow you to pass and merge in front of it.  This is the “dance” from highway speeds in which you and I could brake so hard that we leave skid marks on the road surface.  Obviously we want to avoid this situation.  Since your personal vehicle is much more maneuverable than my truck, you are in a better position to bail us out.

At much slower speeds such as slow-and-go or stop-and-go, merging is easier since either of us can stop.  Either I can stop and let you merge ahead of me or you can stop and merge behind me.

Takeaways

When you enter a highway, yield the right of way to vehicles already on it.

When you’re about to enter the right lane of a restricted access highway, plan to maneuver around any truck in that lane, adjusting your merge according to what it does.

When you’re able to merge onto a highway in front of a truck, accelerate briskly to help the driver keep you safe, minimize braking and conserve fuel.

When you emerge from the end of a right entrance ramp alongside the middle of a truck and the driver does not move out of the right lane for you, it is safest to brake and merge behind the truck.

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