As the weather starts to warm up, more and more vehicles of all different sizes will hit Alberta’s highways: cars, trucks, bicycles, RVs, motorbikes.
“Given the amount of traffic, it’s important that you drive to the conditions and give yourself plenty of room,” says Ron Wilson, a manager of driver education at AMA.
To that end, a good rule of thumb is to ensure a sizeable “envelope of safety” between you and the vehicle ahead. The larger your envelope (in all directions), the more space you have to react, maneuver or brake if anything unexpected occurs. You’ll also have a better view of what’s happening up the road. For urban driving on dry roads, Wilson says the minimum following distance is three seconds—pick a fixed landmark, then count the time it takes for you to pass it after the car ahead of you has done so. If you’re on a rural road where speeds are faster, increase your following distance to four to six seconds. Naturally, you should stay back farther during rainy or otherwise inclement conditions.
You should also drive according to the vehicles around you:
RVs AND LARGE TRUCKS
Alberta’s highways always have their share of transport trucks, but warmer weather also brings out farm vehicles, motorhomes and travel trailers. Before trying to pass any of these larger, slower vehicles, make sure you can see well up the road, then check your mirrors and blind spots, and pass as quickly as possible. “Larger vehicles have larger blind spots,” Wilson says, “so you don’t want to be driving alongside them for any length of time.” Once you’ve passed, don’t pull back into the right lane until you can see the front of the truck (or RV) in your rear-view mirror.
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MOTORCYCLES AND BICYCLES
Two-wheelers are also entitled to their own space on the road. On highways especially, be aware of motorcyclists passing on the left. They’re harder to see; scan your mirrors every five to eight seconds. And watch for cyclists, too, maintaining extra vigilance in areas with bike lanes. When passing a cyclist, move completely to the adjacent lane if it’s safe to do so. (If you can’t pass safely, slow down and wait until it is safe.) And perform mirror and shoulder checks when turning—as well as when parking and opening your door. Doing so could be the difference between a normal drive and a serious collision.
VEHICLES AT THE ROADSIDE
Slow down and be prepared to stop suddenly if you see a vehicle at the side of the road, be it a disabled car or an emergency responder—and change lanes if possible. Alberta law requires that you decelerate to 60 kilometres per hour or less when passing emergency vehicles (including tow trucks) stopped at the roadside.
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WATCH YOUR BACK
Of course, just because you’re a safe driver doesn’t mean the person behind you is. In a 2016 City of Edmonton survey of traffic safety, almost 20 percent of respondents admitted to following other vehicles too closely, usually because those vehicles weren’t travelling fast enough for their liking.
Wilson advises that if you’re being tailgated, “The first thing to do is to slow down so they’ll pass, and if that doesn’t work, then change lanes. If you still feel you’re in a dangerous situation, look for someplace safe and just pull over and let the other vehicle pass you.”
WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED
Practice makes perfect: Just starting out on your driving journey? Once you’ve studied the Alberta Driver’s Handbook, prepare for your Class 5 knowledge test by taking a free online practice exam.
Lifelong learning: If you’re already a licensed motorist but feel you’re in need of a refresher on defensive driving skills, consider registering for a Brush-Up Lesson with AMA. It provides at least two hours of in-car instruction and can be customized to suit your needs.