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Road Trips 101: Highway Rules for Long Drives

Hit the open road and enjoy the trip as much as the destination.
Hit the open road and enjoy the trip as much as the destination.
Photo by Jeff Balke

For some, road trips are liberating. See the landscape up close. Control your travel and don't worry about flight delays and cramped airplanes. It's not for everyone, obviously, but if you enjoy or think you might like to try a long drive consider this your primer.

We will cover everything from taking long solo trips in the car to tech worth packing, but first we start with some rules of the road. No, not speeding or texting, one of which you will probably do and one you absolutely should NEVER do. These are the unwritten rules of driving that will help everyone enjoy the road and make it a trip worth taking.

Give big trucks a very wide birth.

For those of us who choose to get on the road, it is critical to be aware of the men and women who are there for work. Truck drivers have a dangerous job, hauling all sorts of things from coast to coast ever day, sometimes pulling long shifts. They deserve the respect of all of us, but so do their vehicles. They are huge with limited visibility and difficulty stopping suddenly.

And those are the vehicles with professional drivers at the wheel. There are also RVs and huge trailers being pulled behind trucks. You don't have to have any experience or special license for that.

The point is those big rigs need to be given plenty of room to do what they need to do. Slow down around them and make sure they know you are there even if you need to honk a horn or flash your lights.

Change your driving personality when the sun goes down.

Most of us on the highway will probably drive a little over the speed limit — except in West Texas where the speed limit is like 150. We will also coast along on cruise control and maybe have a snack or even chat on the phone (hands free obviously). But that needs to go out the window when it gets dark outside. This might sound obvious, but it is easy to let your guard down early in the morning when you hit road or in the later evening as you near your destination.

It's easier to tire at night. It's tougher to see where you are going on unfamiliar roadways. And it's more difficult for people to see you. Don't risk falling asleep or getting lost. Be hyper alert and get off the road when you even feel a bit weary. It's not worth the risk otherwise.

Flash your headlights at fellow drivers as a courteous warning.

Ever wonder why people are flashing their lights at you? There are plenty of reasons, but you should pay attention. If they are heading the same direction as you, particularly if they are in the rear, it probably means they want you to move over. If they are moving toward you, keep your eyes open for a speed trap ahead and make sure your headlights are on if need be. You may even slow down and be aware of potentially bad weather.

You can use your flashing lights for similar reasons. You are all on the road just trying to get from point A to point B safely. Help one another so you all get where you want to go.

Recognize your speed and choose your lane accordingly.

The left lane is for passing only. It's difficult to emphasize that enough because it appears few people pay attention to that concept. In many places, it's the law. And for good reason. A four-lane highway means that two cars going roughly the same speed can turn an otherwise easy driving route into rush hour traffic.

If you can't build up enough speed to get by a person on the right, you need to drive behind them. Period. And if you are in the left lane with people closely following, get over to the right. We mentioned truckers earlier. Watch how they behave in this regard. You don't see them in the left lane unless they have to pass someone. Act like a pro driver and avoid a host of angry drivers on your backside.

Enjoy the trip, not just the destination.

It is easy to forget on a long drive that it is supposed to be fun. You can get stiff and tired. But this is why you need to build in plenty of time and stop as frequently as possible. In fact, enjoy it. Take pictures. Pull over at a small town and grab a bite at a local diner. Drive a scenic back road. Check out the world's largest ball of twine.

One of the great things about the road trip is the ability to stop and smell the roses, sometimes literally. You won't see those sights from an airplane window. Have some fun. On a road trip, the journey is as important as where you are going.

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