The road-trip is an inherent and beloved piece of American tradition that is learned from an early age with our family and evolves into weekend endeavors with our friends as soon as we garner our official driver’s license. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the road or a novice explorer of neighboring cities and sights, there are several little tips and hints that everyone should know when navigating highways to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of your family and friends. Here are some hidden highways hints to help you experience the ideal road-trip.
Life in the Passing Lane
The left lane is known as the “passing lane” and not the “fast lane” despite the habits of other drivers. Along your travels you’ll see plenty of people flying through the left lane. While everyone has their own idea of what is a safe and acceptable speed to drive, many get lost in the idea that driving in the left lane should be a normalcy where one exceeds the speed limit by at least 15mph—do not do this. If someone is in the middle lane in front of you and you know that they are driving a speed on the slower side, simply slide into the left lane and pass them or maybe even the car in front of them. Always use your turning signal as well; even if you notice other drivers failing to use a turn signal, do not follow their example. These tips will allow you to change lanes safely and successfully.
Another rule of highway and driving etiquette in general, is to never ever tailgate another driver; tailgating is one of the worst habits of bad driving etiquette and could cause an accident if both drivers have to suddenly stop for whatever reason.
Rest Areas, Welcome Centers, and Oases
These government-run, public facilities are spread out across the country off of highways, freeways, and expressway systems so that weary travelers can rest, eat, refuel, stretch, or use the washroom facilities before continuing on their journey, whether daunting or not. Usually set off exits in rural areas without food, board, or gas services nearby, these locations will be marked on signs every hundred or so miles. Each has its own distinction and can include different features.
- Rest Areas—Rest Areas (or Rest Stops) are the most commonplace of the travel plazas. At these locations, driving information and pocket-sized atlases are usually obtainable. Large maps presented with your location highlighted usually stand for your viewing pleasure. Most rest stops contain a park with benches for relaxing, stretching, or general activities. Vending machines filled with snacks should be present along with large restrooms for both men and women, complete with stalls and changing tables. Depending on where you stop there could possibly be a person in the general information booth to try and answer any inquiry you may have.
- Welcome Centers—Welcome or Visitor Centers are a form of rest stops that are usually seen just outside or inside the exits and entrances of stateliness. Whether government-owned or privatized, these travel plazas usually consist of public washroom facilities, maps, brochures pertaining to state history, activities, lodging, and dining, and picnic areas, much like a typical rest area. More often than not, there will be an on-site desked person to answer your questions.
- Oases—These privatized rest areas, sometimes called an “Oasis” or presented in the form of a Truck Stop Gas Station, tend to cater to those that are making cross-country journeys (truckers) or families with children and can contain a food court featuring fast-food restaurants or diners, rec centers, shower facilities, arcade game stations, Wi-Fi, conference rooms, ATM’s, and convenient stores.
It should be advised not to stop for a prolonged period at night unless necessary. States are cracking down on unsafe activity at rest areas, with California now featuring Highway Patrol quarters, camera, and extra lighting, but due to the rural setting of the plaza, your state wants you to be safe. In this instance, only stop if it is necessary or if you’re with another person.
Roadside Assistance and Highway Emergency Numbers
In the event that something does cause your trip to go awry, it should be a sign of relief that most states have emergency assistance within the area that may be able to help you get out of a pickle.
- Call Boxes—Call Boxes still exist in many states. Some states had them at intervals of every mile or two along the highways. Along the side of the highway, you’ll be able to contact a control center via a four button pad; blue for accident; black for minor service like flat tire; green for major service like breakdown; and yellow for cancel; some call boxes still use a phone or have a voice box, though these are less common.
- Cellphone Emergency Assistance—Never use your cell phone while driving, but in-case of an accident it definitely will help your situation if you have one present. Just like at home, dialing 911 for emergencies will garner you an operator, but because you may be stuck in the middle of nowhere, every state has their own specific cellphone-only numbers to help report problems or gain assistance.
- “0” for Operator assistance
- “511” for Traveler Information Telephone Number
- “411” for Local Director Assistance
- “*SP” for State Police
- “*HP” for Highway Patrol
- Each state will also have a specific number to call aside from “911”.
Know your Route
Despite picking one up at the previous rest area, you know that the days of the physical and tangible road atlas are over. However, there’s nothing more stressful than you or your co-pilot learning that your exit to the next leg of the trip is in 500 feet or that you passed by it 4 miles ago. Whether you’ve memorized it or are using your map app on your phone, make sure that no last second surprise jumps up at you on your journey that could possibly cause an accident.
When learning your route, also estimate the time that you will be traveling on your journey. The knowledge of when to press on and when to stop will keep you from encountering any bumps as well. For example, if you’re driving on interstate 10 on your way from Jacksonville, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana, make sure that you’re not driving in a heavily wooded land late at night without the presence of other cars, because deer tend to frequent the area and will venture from brush to brush if they don’t see active human activity.
Road-trips are the backbone of American freedom and good for a person’s soul. The ability to pick up and run off somewhere alone, with family, or with friends, even for a weekend, can greatly help you grow as an individual and better yourself in the long run. When you go on a road trip, you want to make sure that you’re safe and sound on the highways of American, whether by knowing when and where to stop or by using peripheral vision to notice an upcoming driver with road rage. Whatever the case, be safe in your exploration and use these hidden and forgotten hints to take care of yourself.