How to drive safely in the city

1. Give yourself plenty of time.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, so you can take your time, slow down, and be calm and focused in order to deal with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, pedestrians, public transportation vehicles, and parking problems.

2. Reduce speed and be prepared to stop.
Slow down to the flow of traffic, but do not go over the speed limit. There are many more traffic challenges in the city so you need to be more aware of your surroundings.  Look ahead and all around you, and watch out for any traffic hazard, predict any negative traffic situation, and be ready to react to a traffic situation in a timely manner.

Be prepared to stop. There are a lot of pedestrians in a rush and distracted, and you will need to be aware and ready to stop if a situation arises.

3. Watch out for potential traffic situations and traffic hazards.
City streets usually do not have shoulders, there is a lot of stop-and-go traffic, and there are a lot of other traffic activities such as cars or buses merging into your lane, so you usually do not have the option of quickly changing lanes or using the shoulders in case of a traffic situation or hazard.

So, when a traffic situation arises, you will need to be more prepared and react in the best way possible to avoid an accident.

The following techniques will provide you more reaction options in case of a traffic hazard:

  • Stay at a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. The distance should be about three seconds’ driving time based on your current speed between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Do not drive in the blind spot of other vehicles.
  • Do not drive alongside other vehicles and provide enough distance or space for other vehicles to change lanes if needed.

4. Anticipate a traffic light change when approaching an intersection.
City streets tend to have a lot of short blocks with signal lights, and you need to be prepared to either stop or move ahead way before reaching the intersection with the stoplight.

Therefore, you should look far ahead and anticipate any signal light change and be prepared to react accordingly:

  • When you look far ahead for the next intersection's signal light and see it is red, slow down and be prepared to come to a smooth stop.
  • When you look far ahead for the next intersection's signal light and notice it is green, but you anticipate that the light may turn red by the time you get to the intersection because the green light has been green for a while (it is called a stale green light), you should slow down and be prepared to stop. Never try to speed up to make it through a stale green light that can turn red momentarily.

5. Stay in the lane with the least amount of obstructions.
In city streets, the right lane next to the parked cars and the left lane next to the parked cars on a one-way street are the lanes with the most obstacles and unfriendly traffic activities due to the following:

  • People are getting in and out of their cars.
  • Some drivers block the lane waiting to park or trying to park.
  • Some drivers are distracted trying to find an address or find parking.
  • Delivery trucks block the lane making deliveries.

So, try to stay away from the lane with these types of risky traffic activities. Middle lanes tend to have a more stable traffic and less risky traffic activities, so try to drive staying in the middle lane.

6. Recognize a one-way street and carry out safe driving techniques.
Most of the city streets are one-way, so you should be careful not to drive the wrong way.

Below is information on how to recognize a one-way street:

  • There are “one-way” street signs on both sides of the street.
  • Cars are all driving one way on both sides of the street.
  • Cars are parked pointing in the same direction on both sides of the street.
  • All lanes have white markings, and there are no yellow markings.

When leaving a one-way street and making a turn onto another street, look for signs to see if you are turning onto another one-way street or a two-way street, and make sure that you do not go in the wrong way. When you are driving on a one-way street, use the right lane to make a right turn and use the left lane to make a left turn. You cannot make a U-turn on a one-way street because you will be driving the wrong way.

There are streets where a two-way street ends and becomes a one-way street or one-way street ends and becomes a two-way street; always look for street signs that inform you about the change.

If you notice a driver is driving in a wrong way on a one-way street, slow down and be prepared to change the lane or get out of the way – try to get the driver's attention by constantly honking your horn and using your headlights and if this does not help, get out of the way.

7. Learn to cover your brake.
Covering the brake is a safety technique that entails taking your foot off the gas pedal and holding it over the brake pedal (without pressing against the brake pedal), and being prepared to push the brakes and stop if needed. This technique provides a better reaction time to a traffic hazard.

Covering the brakes implies to hold your foot on the brake pedal, but not to push it unless you need to stop.  Constantly pushing brakes while driving is called “Riding the Brakes.”  If you push your brake pedal, your brake lights will stay on, and the cars behind you will get confused and stop, thinking that traffic is coming to a stop.

Use this technique when:

  • Driving next to parked cars.  Always allow a safe distance for a parked driver or passenger to open the door safely without any chances of getting hit by your car.
  • Driving in the lane where there are pedestrian activities or bicyclists near your vehicle
  • You see that the brake lights of the car in front are on.  If you notice that vehicles around you are slowing down, you also need to slow down.
  • You anticipate that a green light is about to change. If the crosswalk signal starts to flash, this indicates that the traffic light is getting ready to change from green to red.