Navigating Complicated Highway Interchanges and Ramps
Most of the more complicated exit/entry ramps are on heavily travelled city freeway interchanges in which major highway routes join each other or split off from each other. Among my most memorable are elevated ramps connecting to highways that are also elevated on viaducts leading over and between densely built urban structures. Some ramps are long, flowing and seem to blend with the highways that they finally connect to. Others are abrupt, short and sharply curved. Some ramps exit their originating highways from the left lane(s), and others from the right lane(s). Some terminate on the left lane(s) of their destination highway, while others terminate on the right lane(s). Also, left lane as well as right lane exit ramps terminate onto minor highways and surface streets.
Some ramps are single-lane and others multi-lane. Some split, requiring drivers to choose the ramp leading to their destination highway or surface street, and in the case of multi-lane ramps, to change ramp lanes.
Some ramps join with one or more other ramps, requiring one or more vehicle merges. When two ramp lanes converge so one lane is terminated, vehicles originating from the remaining lane usually have the right of way. The rule to yield to vehicles on drivers’ left may also come into play. If you approach my truck from a terminating ramp on my right (my “blind side”), your safest maneuver is to slow down and get behind me. Depending on our speeds, we may not have room for me to slow down enough to let you in front. If you approach my truck from a terminating ramp on my left, there is a better chance that I can slow down to let you in front of me, depending on our relative positions.
Because of the ramps’ twisting paths and tangled layouts and the congestion on them, speeds are generally slower than highway speeds. Speeds decrease to stop-and-go in rush hours and in construction and accident backups. Drivers typically cooperate in their maneuvers, changing lanes and merging in alternating fashion.
Interchange and ramp signs are critical to staying on route, especially for truck drivers because of the size and maneuverability limitations of their trucks. OTR (over the road) drivers who travel these interchanges and ramps infrequently have the additional challenge of unfamiliarity and are particularly dependent on signs. I am always on high alert to follow signs on these interchanges and ramps, because recovering from a missed entry, exit or turn can be very difficult and time-consuming.
Moreover I favor signs over the GPS systems on my trucks because in my experience, GPS too often gets “confused” and provides tardy, ambiguous, incorrect and/or impractical directions. I am especially wary of relying on GPS in areas containing low bridges and other obstacles, such as New York City and Chicago.
On these interchanges and ramps you may want to be extra cautious around trucks and as I do, treat the directions from your GPS system as subordinate to information provided by the signs.
When You Exit a Controlled Access Multi-Lane Highway From a Left Entry Ramp
Truck lane laws permitting (in dense traffic areas trucks are often prohibited from traveling in left lanes in the absence of left exits), I sometimes move to a lane to the left of the right lane to avoid the “churn” (exit and entry) of vehicles in the right lane. But in doing so, I may get caught in the churn of vehicles moving to a left exit. This is especially true if the exit ramp departs from my lane. Then some personal vehicles may swerve close in front of my truck from a lane to my right to reach the 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 in the Passing Me chapter). A hazardous situation develops when a driver exiting close in front of my truck discovers that the exit ramp is short or curvy or congested and has to brake hard as he enters, forcing me to brake hard as well. To reach a left exit, hopefully you will signal in advance and either change lanes in front of my truck outside your lead threshold or move behind me, allowing a safe following distance (see the Risk Zone: Close and Directly in Front of My Truck and the Risk Zone: Close and Directly Behind My Truck tips).
An even riskier situation is possible when I’m in a middle lane to the right of the left (exit) lane. A driver rushing to an exit by swerving two or more lanes from my right across my lane to the left lane may suddenly be blocked by a vehicle passing my truck in the left lane. The ensuing maneuver to avoid a collision by that driver with the vehicle in the left lane could result in an accident with my truck. It is important that you allow for my truck hiding vehicles in the left lane from your vision.
Conversely, a few drivers passing me on the left hurry to then move right to my lane or a lane to my right. Since my truck hides vehicles on my right from them, they can also be surprised as they cut right in front of my truck. The worst situation would of course be meeting a vehicle rushing to a left exit ramp from my right.
Stay alert, flexible and cooperative on complicated interchanges and exit/entry ramps.
On complicated exit/entry ramps be extra cautious around trucks, whose drivers may not be familiar with their twisting paths and tangled layouts.
To change lanes for a left exit off a multi-lane city freeway or other major highway, signal in advance and either allow a safe distance (beyond your lead threshold) in front of trucks or move behind them, allowing a safe following distance.
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.