There’s a big difference between driving around your neighborhood running errands or heading to work and cruising the open roads of a rural 2-lane highway across unfamiliar territory. Here are some tips to help you drive safely and steer clear of trouble with the Highway Patrol.
While most official rules of the road are uniform across the country, it’s very important to make a special effort to observe the traffic signs for any differences from where you live. (For example: are right turns on red lights permitted?) Not following the “laws of the land” is a sure-fire way to get yourself pulled over. Here’s what I learned (the hard and expensive way) to stay safe and avoid tickets while driving:
1. Mind the speed limit.
As hard as it may be, speed limits are posted for a reason—to keep you safe. It is incredibly tempting when you’re traveling on desolate open highways without another car in sight to drive way over the posted limit. Everyone does the math Distance/Rate=Time, meaning the faster you go, the sooner you’ll get there. But going 90-100 miles an hour just isn’t safe. Better to arrive in one piece than splattered across the highway because you swerved to avoid something in the road.
2. Move over for shoulder traffic.
If you see a car along the right shoulder, in some states, by law, you must change into the left lane until you’ve passed the stopped vehicle. Law or not, it is a very safe practice and something you should always do if the left lane next to you is clear and it is safe to move over. I had no idea until I was stopped in South Dakota by a Highway Patrol officer who informed me about it—while he was writing my speeding ticket.
3. Stay out of the left lane.
Cops know you’re not from around there if you stay in the left lane on a rural 2-lane highway when there is very little traffic. Generally speaking, it’s best to stay in the right lane unless you need to pass. Get back in the right lane and continue cruising once you’ve made your move. If traffic is a bit heavier, both lanes will be sufficiently occupied and you can choose either one.
4. Keep your eyes open.
This is true any time you’re driving, but especially when you’re on big interstates. Cops can be hiding anywhere. If you notice a cop coming up on you, take your foot off the gas and don’t slam on the brakes—just coast till you come to the proper speed. Slamming on your brakes just looks like an admission of guilt.
5. If you’re pulled over, rely on your intuition.
Are you in the middle of nowhere? Then be cautious when pulled over. In South Dakota when I got pulled over for speeding, the officer kept asking me to go back to his patrol car and check the reading on the radar. Something in my gut told not to do it. I declined, telling him I didn’t feel safe walking out on the highway on the shoulder, with which he then agreed.(Truthfully I didn’t feel safe wondering what else he might want to “show me” in his patrol car). Obey the law, but know your rights, remain calm and trust your gut when it comes to safety.
6. Don’t lose your cool.
You’re hot and sweaty, the kids are hungry and driving you nuts and you are dying to pass the guy in front of you cruising along ever so slowly. The only thing stopping you—a double yellow line. That scene played out for me in Pueblo Colorado near a water park by the reservoir. I crossed the double line to get in front of the slow moving vehicle, only to find out it was a cop. What a nightmare! We were pulled over by a park ranger who thought he would live out his COPS fantasy by making a big bust. Hand on holster, he called for backup and gave us the full interrogation as well as a lecture on traffic safety. Had I let my bad mood get the better of me, I would have been in handcuffs for sure. Needless to say, I learned my lesson. Stay calm, channel your inner zen, and ALWAYS obey traffic laws.
7. Fill up the tank.
You never know when you’ve passed the last gas station for the next hundred miles, which could land you stranded in the middle of nowhere if you’re not keeping an eye on the fuel gauge. Take every opportunity to fill up. It’ll keep the show on the road, and also give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, use the restroom, and grab some snacks before moving on to the next adventure.
8. Invest in AAA.
I can’t say this enough. AAA could be your savior if you get a flat tire or have engine trouble. Not to mention, you get all sorts of other benefits and discounts at tourist stops across the country. It’s worth every penny and not to mention, it’s peace of mind.
9. Fill your tires.
This is an important one, especially if you don’t have AAA. Flats are no fun, but keeping the tires adequately filled will prevent this from happening.
10. To Keep your Sanity—Keep your car clean.
No one wants to travel in a garbage can. At the end of each day, throw out the trash. Keep an empty bag in the car so that everyone can put their trash in there while on the road. A clean car makes for a much happier experience for everyone!