If you’re getting ready for your first voyage onto the highway, take a look at our useful driving tips for new drivers to keep yourself — and others — safe.
In Ontario, highways are defined by higher travel speeds and multiple lanes for travel. Also called freeways or expressways, drivers enter and exit via ramps, and traffic travelling in either direction is separated by a barrier. Highways are designed for higher speeds of vehicle traffic, omitting intersections and other road users, like cyclists and pedestrians. When used properly, highways can be a safe way for experienced motorists to travel.
The lanes on a highway may seem the same, but each has its own purpose. In a three-lane configuration, the left lane is designed for passing, the middle for travel at normal speeds, and the right for acceleration lane when passing, entering, or exiting. On highways with additional lanes, a similar format follows: pass in the left, drive in the middle, enter/exit on the right.
Some highways will also feature a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. Designed to promote carpooling and provide a more efficient ride home, these lanes are reserved for vehicles with a specified number of passengers. In Ontario, you must have more than two people in the vehicle to use HOV lanes.
Speeds on highways vary depending on the province and jurisdiction. In Ontario, most 400-series highways are 100 km/hour. However, the province is piloting increased speeds on some roads, with posted speeds of up to 110 km/hour. The important thing here is to be aware of the speed limit on the highway you are driving, as speeds may change depending on posted limits or road conditions. Monitor your own speed accordingly, and be ready to react to changes as they occur.
Best tips for new drivers
Practice makes perfect
One of the keys to confidently driving on the highway is experience. If you’re new to highway driving, consider working with a driving instructor to test out your new skills safely. The high pace of traffic can be stressful and confusing — it is best to have an expert supporting you on your first few trips to help you foster safe driving habits.
When you head out on your own, stay aware of the roadway scanning all lanes, and looking ahead to see what’s happening. Ontario's Ministry of Transportation recommends looking ahead to where you will be in the next 15-20 seconds, anticipating any changes that you may have to react quickly to. Checking your blind spots and mirrors frequently will keep you well-informed of what’s happening around you, and help you steer clear of potential issues and other drivers. Approaching a commercial truck? Pass them safely, leaving ample amounts of room.
Expect the unexpected
Circumstances on highways can change rapidly — you may come up to a construction zone or hit inclement weather unexpectedly. Focus on decelerating smoothly, as slamming on the brakes may leave drivers behind you with little time to react. Construction zones should be approached cautiously, following all detour and speed signs, as road workers are especially vulnerable on highways. For inclement weather such as snow, sleet, or rain, increase your distance between vehicles and drive for the conditions — which could mean going slower than the posted speed. If the roads are messy, consider getting off the highway and picking a slower, safer route.