How to Navigate Phoenix Freeways as a New Driver 

Driving on the freeway is one of the most intimidating parts of being a new driver. From learning the laws to understanding your direction, there’s a lot to take in. Here are the freeway basics you need to know to hit high-speed roads safely and with confidence.

Arizona’s Major Freeways

Interstate 10: One of the country’s major east-west freeways, the I-10 crosses through Arizona starting near San Simon at the New Mexico border, passing through both Tucson and Phoenix, and ending near the town of Ehrenberg. 

US Route 60: Starting all the way in Virgina, this east-west freeway enters Arizona at the New Mexico border near Springerville and ends near Quartzite, intersecting with other major freeways along the way, including the I-10 and I-17.

Interstate 17: This north-south freeway is entirely contained in Arizona, with a southern terminus in Phoenix and northern terminus in Flagstaff. In addition to being one of the most utilized freeways in the state (after the I-10), it’s also considered the most scenic.

Other Common Freeways

State Route 101 (Loop 101): As the name suggests, Loop 101 loops around about three-fourths of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. You can reach different Phoenix suburbs along this route, including Scottsdale, Tempe, and Chandler.

State Route 202 (Loop 202): Loop 202 connects the eastern and southern portions of Phoenix, beginning in central Phoenix and looping around Mesa and Gilbert. 

State Route 303 (Loop 303): Loop 303 connects western suburbs of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. This route starts just south of Goodyear at an I-10 interchange and ends south of Anthem at an I-17 interchange. 

Must-Know Freeway Driving Scenarios

The Phoenix area has one of the nation’s largest freeway systems, so learning how to safely navigate it is essential. Make sure you know these freeway driving basics. 

Merging On & Off the Freeway

Drivers already on the freeway have the right of way, which means you shouldn’t expect them to slow down or speed up to make room for you. Once you’re on the on-ramp, you want to start accelerating to match the speed of other drivers, so you can smoothly merge without interfering with the current flow of traffic. When exiting, lower your speed to the exit’s posted speed limit. 

If traffic is heavy, leave sufficient space. Don’t try to merge as fast as possible, and instead, watch the car in front of you. Once that car merges, let the next car on the freeway move forward, then merge into the lane yourself. 

No matter what the traffic conditions are, don’t forget to use your turn signal to let drivers around you know your next move.

The HOV Lane

Freeways all over Arizona, especially those in or near major cities, often have high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which are reserved for vehicles with two or more people (including the driver). If you’re in an HOV lane when you shouldn’t be, you could face hefty fines, so make sure you’re aware of these HOV regulations:

  • There are specific hours during which the HOV lane is restricted, usually from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Outside of these hours, anyone can access the HOV lane. 
  • The HOV lane is marked with two solid white lines. Some states only allow you to enter the lane in a marked area, but in Arizona, you can merge in and out of HOV lanes whenever you want (as long as you have more than one person in the car). 
  • Some HOV lanes lead to their own HOV exit, but that’s not always the case. Leave sufficient time to merge over to the right lane if needed. 

Driving the wrong way

It’s hard to imagine a scarier scenario than finding yourself heading into oncoming traffic. In addition to never driving while impaired, always be on the look out for “wrong way” or “do not enter” signs over entrance and exit ramps. Usually painted bright red, these signs are posted over the freeway exit or entrance ramps you shouldn’t be using. 

Sometimes, freeway signs will be able to give you advanced warning that there’s a wrong-way driver up ahead. In these cases, you want to get off the freeway completely at the first possible exit. If you’re faced with a wrong-way driver without any warning, check your mirrors and move to the nearest safe location as quickly as possible. 

Want to improve your freeway driving skills with an expert there to guide you? Learn about what we offer at Stop and Go Driving School.