Speed Limits

Safe Driving Tips

Driving is a privilege and a responsibility. A driver must obey all traffic laws and be prepared to react to other drivers and driving conditions.

This article will give you a rundown of safe driving tips in state of Illinois, but it’s just as valid for any other state.

Drive Defensively

A driver should always be prepared to react to another driver. A driver should not assume to know what the other driver is going to do. If unable to avoid a crash, a driver should remain calm and try to choose the least dangerous situation. For example, driving into a ditch is less dangerous than a head-on crash.

Following Distances

Following a vehicle too closely or tailgating is the cause of most rear-end crashes. A driver should use the three-second rule to determine a safe following distance. To use the three second rule, a driver should select a fixed object on the road ahead such as a sign, tree or overpass.

When the vehicle in front passes the object, a driver should count “one-thousandone, one-thousand-two, etc.” The driver’s vehicle should not reach the object before the count of one-thousand-three. If this occurs, the driver is too close to the front vehicle. The three-second rule also applies to vehicle speed when on a good road and during good weather conditions.

If the road and/or weather conditions are not good, a driver should increase the following distance even more. A driver being tailgated should move to another lane or slowly pull off the road and allow the vehicle to pass.

Vehicle Speed

Driving too fast or too slowly can create a dangerous situation. Regardless of the posted speed limit, weather and traffic conditions may make it necessary to drive more slowly.

A driver should adjust a vehicle’s speed for the conditions and to match the flow of traffic, as long as it does not surpass the maximum posted speed limit. Doubling a vehicle’s speed quadruples the vehicle’s stopping distance.

Drivers should consider the following when deciding vehicle speed:

  • How quickly they can react physically and mentally.
  • Type and condition of the roadway.
  • The size of the tires — large, wide tires with good tread will stop a vehicle faster than small, narrow tires with little tread.
  • The condition of the brakes — newer brakes stop a vehicle more quickly than older, worn brakes.
  • The direction of the wind and how fast is it blowing — a strong tail wind can make it very difficult to stop.
  • The type of vehicle — vehicle design, weight distribution, suspension and shock absorbers all play a role in how quickly a vehicle can stop.

Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving can impair the ability to drive safely, even if the driver does not fall asleep. A driver often cannot react in time to apply brakes or steer away from a potential crash.

A driver should be properly rested and avoid drowsiness by stopping frequently when taking long trips. Exercising the eyes by reading road signs or shifting the focus to different parts of the roadway is also helpful.

Weather Conditions

Weather can create a driving hazard. Special care must be taken in fog, rain, high winds and winter driving conditions.


While it is not advisable, if operating a car in foggy conditions, a driver should take the following precautions:

  • Turn off the cruise control and increase the following distance.
  • Slow down. If a driver sees headlights or taillights, the vehicle should slow down even more. A driver may be driving in the center of the roadway or may be stopped or barely moving.
  • Drive with the headlights set on dim or use fog lights.
  • Do not overdrive the headlights. A driver should stay within the limits of vision in case it is necessary to stop suddenly. If the fog is too dense, a driver should pull off the roadway and stop. Vehicles should not drive at 5-10 mph.
  • Use turn signals long before making a turn.
  • Brake early when approaching a stop to warn other drivers.


Law requires a driver to use the vehicle’s headlights when operating the windshield wipers. When rain begins to fall lightly, water, dust, oil and leaves cause the roadway to become slippery.

Drivers should take the following precautions when driving in rain:

  • Turn off the cruise control and increase the following distance.
  • Take special precautions on curves, turns and while braking.
  • Slow down to avoid hydroplaning.

If a vehicle skids while hydroplaning, the driver should try to regain control of the vehicle. If that is not possible, the driver should release the accelerator and ride out the skid.

If a driver comes across a roadway or viaduct that has been flooded due to heavy rain, it is not advised to drive through the flooded area. It is not possible for a driver to determine the depth or current of the water. The driver should turn the vehicle around and find another route.

High Winds

Wind can be a difficult problem, especially for drivers of trucks, recreational vehicles, campers and trailers-in-tow. A driver should take the following precautions:

  • Reduce speed and make steering corrections when going from a protected area to an open area and when meeting large vehicles such as trucks and buses.
  • Heavy rain or sleet often accompanies high winds. Be alert to wet or slippery areas and plan for those conditions.
  • Tollway systems in some states may ban the hauling of house trailers in high winds.

Winter Driving

Winter is the most difficult driving season due to possible ice, snow, lower temperatures and fewer daylight hours. A driver should:

  • Drive slower and increase the following distance. Roadway conditions may vary depending upon the sun, shade or roadway surface.
  • Turn off the cruise control if the pavement is wet, icy or snowy.
  • Remove all snow and ice from the vehicle, clear all windows and do not start driving until the windshield is defrosted and clear. A driver should be sure to have nonfreezing windshield washer liquid and that the vehicle’s headlights and taillights are visible.
  • Be sure the vehicle is maintained properly. Lights, brakes, windshield wipers, defrosters, radiator and other parts should be in good working order.
  • Use snow tires and/or chains (where allowed). Snow tires give extra traction and chains increase safety on snow or ice covered roads. Neither snow tires nor chains allow vehicles to drive on bad roads at normal speeds.
  • Gently apply brakes in slow, steady strokes. This helps the driver determine how much vehicle traction is available. A driver should begin braking early when coming to an intersection or stop.
  • Approach bridges, shaded spots, overpasses and turns slowly. They may remain icy after the rest of the roadway is clear and dry.
  • Plan ahead for winter driving. Carrying a blanket, food and other survival equipment, such as a shovel, in the vehicle can be helpful if stranded. If drivers do become stranded, they should remain with the vehicle running the engine only for brief times and opening the window to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. If possible, the driver should make sure the vehicle’s tailpipe is free of snow and debris.

Special Driving Situations and Hazards

Expressway Driving

Expressways, interstates, toll roads, turnpikes and freeways are fast, multiple-lane roads with maximum speed limits of 55, 65 or 70 mph. A driver should be alert when driving on expressways because speed and traffic volume are major concerns.

The following are tips for safe driving on expressways:

  • When entering an expressway, a driver will usually find a speed-change lane. This lane allows a driver to gain the speed necessary before merging. A driver should signal and look for an opening in the traffic, match traffic speed and merge with traffic when safe. More about lane usage here.
  • A driver should check the rearview and side mirrors before changing lanes.
  • A driver should use turn signals when making lane changes.
  • A driver should not follow too closely and allow plenty of distance between vehicles.
  • The right lane is for slower traffic. The left lane is for faster traffic and for passing. A driver should not drive continuously in the left lane.
  • A driver should not stop on the expressway and should pull off the road if experiencing a problem. A driver should lift the vehicle’s hood and turn on the vehicle’s hazard flashers. A driver should never walk along the expressway.
  • Freeway exits may be on the right or left. A driver should be sure the vehicle is in the correct exit and speed-change lanes and use turn signals to indicate the intent to exit. When approaching the exit, a driver should slow down to make the exit in the speedchange lane.
  • If an exit is missed, a driver should go to the next available exit. Backing up on an expressway is against the law.

Night Driving

Night driving is difficult because things may appear differently than in daylight. Glare from lights may interfere with vision. Courtesy and common sense should be used when driving at night. A driver should:

  • Never overdrive a vehicle’s headlights and always keep them clean and aimed properly. Lights should be used from sunset to sunrise. Bright lights must be dimmed 500 feet before meeting an oncoming vehicle or 300 feet before passing a vehicle.
  • Dim the dashboard lights, use the sun visor to avoid glare and avoid using any other light inside the vehicle.
  • Use edge lines and center lines of the roadway as guides.
  • Not stop on the roadway. If a driver must stop, use of a red warning light is recommended.

Rural Intersections

Depending on the time of the year, it may be difficult to see other drivers. Some rural intersections may be marked with warning signs (stop, yield, etc.), while others may not.

When approaching any rural intersection, a driver should slow down and look both ways before entering the intersection.


A driver should slow down before entering a curve. A driver should not brake suddenly as this may cause skidding or locked wheels and should never drive over the center line.

Head-on Approaches

When a vehicle is approaching a driver head-on in the same lane, a driver should immediately slow down, pull over to the right and sound the horn.


Skidding occurs when tires lose traction. If a driver’s vehicle starts to skid, a driver should ease off the gas pedal or brakes, steer into the direction of the skid until regaining traction and then straighten the vehicle.

Driving off the Pavement

If a vehicle’s wheels drift off the pavement onto the shoulder, drivers should grip the wheel firmly, ease their foot off the gas pedal and brake gently. After checking for traffic behind the vehicle, the driver should gently steer the vehicle back onto the pavement. A driver should not jerk the wheel to correct the steering. This may cause the vehicle to drive into oncoming traffic.


If smoke appears, a driver should pull off the road. The engine should be turned off and the driver should move away from the vehicle and call 9-1-1. Vehicle fires can be very dangerous. Drivers should not fight the fire on their own.

Water Crashes

If a vehicle runs off the roadway into water but does not sink right away, the driver should try to escape through a window. Because of differences in water pressure, a driver or passengers may not be able to open the car doors. If the vehicle does sink, persons in the vehicle should move to the back seat area where an air pocket usually forms. If possible, persons trapped should take a deep breath and exit from a rear window.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is deadly. It is found in fumes produced any time a vehicle burns fuel. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Carbon monoxide symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” People who fall asleep in their vehicles or leave them running in their garage can die before they have symptoms. Everyone in the vehicle is at risk, particularly older people, infants and individuals with cardiac, pulmonary or blood disorders.

It is recommended a driver or vehicle owner have a mechanic check the vehicle exhaust system every year and never run a vehicle inside a garage that is attached to a house.


If a driver is in a crash that results in power lines falling on the vehicle, the danger of electrical shock exists. The driver and passengers should remain in the vehicle until help arrives.

If fire is an immediate danger, the people in the vehicle must jump clear of it. When jumping clear, individuals should not allow any part of their body to touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time.

Explosive Fire Hazard

A driver should always shut off a vehicle’s engine when refueling and should never smoke around gas pumps. For safety purposes, a driver should remain with the pump while refueling.

Equipment Failure

Crashes often happen when vehicle equipment fails. Equipment failures may include:

  • Blowouts — A thumping sound may be a warning of a blowout. If this happens, a driver should ease their foot off the gas pedal and keep a firm grasp on the steering wheel, pull safely off the roadway and check the tires. A driver should not brake suddenly.
  • Loss of a wheel or tire — A driver should react the same as a tire blowout.
  • Steering failure — If drivers suddenly have no control of the steering wheel, they should ease off the gas pedal, turn on the vehicle’s emergency flashers and allow the vehicle to come to a slow stop. The driver should brake very gently to prevent the vehicle from spinning. If the vehicle has power steering or a locking steering wheel, drivers should not turn off the ignition because the vehicle will lose either the power steering or their ability to steer.
  • Brake failure — If the brake pedal suddenly sinks to the floor, a driver should pump it to build pressure. If that does not work, the driver should use the emergency or parking brake. To slow down, a driver should shift the vehicle into a lower gear.
  • Headlight failure — If the headlights fail suddenly, a driver should try using the vehicle’s emergency flashers, parking lights and/or turn signals and pull off the road. If the lights begin to dim, the driver should drive to a service station or pull off the road and seek help.
  • Stuck gas pedal — If the gas pedal becomes stuck, drivers should hook their toe under it to free it. If it does not become free, the driver should shift the vehicle into neutral and brake gently to slow down.
  • Blocked vision — If the driver’s vision becomes blocked, he/she should roll down the side window to see, turn on the vehicle’s emergency flashers and pull the vehicle off the road.

Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving is the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.

A driver doing any of the following may be committing acts of aggressive driving and pose the risk of a crash:

  • Speeding.
  • Running red lights and stop signs.
  • Tailgating.
  • Passing on the shoulder of the road.
  • Cutting off another vehicle.
  • Slamming on brakes in front of a tailgater.
  • Improper hand or facial gestures at other drivers.
  • Yelling.
  • Repeatedly honking the horn.
  • Repeatedly flashing the headlights.

If drivers encounter an angry or aggressive motorist, they should:

  • Not retaliate or in any way engage the other driver.
  • Not make eye contact.
  • Keep their vehicle doors locked and windows up.
  • Keep enough space between themselves and the vehicle in front to pull out from behind.
  • Not underestimate a driver’s potential for aggression.

Sources/resources: CyberDriveIllinois – Rules of the Road.

This article about Safe Driving Tips was last updated in 2024. If any of our information is incomplete or outdated please let us know. Thank you!