Crossroads sign on the side of the road at sunset.

Who Has the Right of Way and Other Lessons From Driver’s Ed

For most of us, driving is second nature. We get in, start the engine, turn the wheel and hit the road. And while this “autopilot mode” means familiarity and general ease of driving, it also makes us complacent. It’s time we admit it: The lessons we learned in driver’s education courses of yesteryear are all but left in the dust.

Luckily, it’s never too late to refresh ourselves on the rules of the road, especially if it means a safer overall driving experience. Perhaps it’ll even answer questions we assumed we already knew, such as who has the right of way in certain instances. Is the far-left lane for passing or speeding? What is proper exit-lane etiquette?

Get answers to those questions and more through the following crash course:

Cutting across solid white lines

Solid white lines on a highway, freeway, or any road in general aren’t just there for show. They indicate to drivers that changing lanes is not permitted. Traveling into another lane can only occur once dashed or “broken” white lines are present. If a solid white line exists on the road you’re traveling, stay in your lane.

The true purpose of the far left lane

It’s a common misconception that the far left lane, whether on a highway or a regular two-lane street, is intended for the road’s speedsters, but any driver’s ed course would debunk this myth immediately. The left lane is, in fact, intended for passing. If a driver is traveling slowly in front of you, that’s an ideal moment to move into the left lane to eventually pass them. Pro tip: When a roadway is crowded and all lanes are heavily populated, refrain from driving in the left lane if you’re moving slower than average traffic (which has the right of way in this case).

Exit-lane etiquette

While it’s technically legal in some states to utilize an exit lane to bypass traffic, it’s frankly just bad manners. Exit lanes are reserved for exactly what they specify: to exit the highway. In general, swerving in and around traffic can have dangerous consequences. Stay out of the exit lane unless you are, in fact, preparing to exit the roadway.

Picking up enough speed to merge onto a highway

Perhaps one of the most stressful aspects of driving (especially for a beginner) is learning how to properly and safely merge onto a highway. It can be both tricky and scary, but there’s one rule of thumb to make the merge a little easier: Pick up enough speed so that you’re moving about as fast as vehicles already on the road. If you don’t, other drivers may be forced to speed up, slow down, or abruptly change lanes at your arrival.

In the end, if you’re unsure of who has the right of way, which car belongs in which lane, or why certain driving rules exist at all, contact your state and local officials to learn more. State highway patrols and motor vehicle departments are particularly good places to start. And once you’ve mastered the lessons of driver’s ed all over again, drop by your nearest Schaefer Autobody Center to give your set of wheels a little TLC; after all, they’re what keep you moving.