Would Britain’s roads be safer places if learner drivers were allowed onto our motorways?
According to the government’s transport minister Andrew Jones, the answer to this question is a definite yes! And if his £2million plans for enhanced driver training are approved, future learners could book motorway driving lessons and be driving on the motorway as soon as 2018.
Statistically at least, British motorways are some of our safest roads. For new or nervous drivers, however, it doesn’t always feel that way. Our current driving test doesn’t include motorway driving so for new drivers, so the thought of navigating a fast-moving three or four lane motorway can be an intimidating prospect.
To make motorway driving seem less daunting, or help you brush up on your current skills, we’ve put together a Top 10 list of Motorway Driving Tips. Let us know if you have any of your own tips to share.
TIP 1. JOIN CONFIDENTLY
Britain’s motorways are no place for timid drivers. The speed limits are higher than most other roads and drivers travel quicker. However that doesn’t mean they drive dangerously - our motorways are still safe places to drive.
The first challenge for drivers is joining the motorway. Don’t worry, the slip-roads are long with clear visibility, giving you plenty of time to build up your speed and prepare.
Use your indicators early to let other drivers know you’re joining. Check your mirrors but also use your own eyesight to spot a gap in the traffic, then accelerate or decelerate to time your approach with this gap.
Remember, other drivers expect you to join and many will adjust their own speeds to help you. Kinder drivers might even change lanes to give you a larger gap. Also, try to make sure that your driving speed matches that of other drivers – this will help you smoothly join the motorway traffic flow without stress or incident.
TIP 2. RESPECT THE SPEED LIMITS
Traffic on motorways usually travels at a faster speed than other roads. This can take some getting used to, but it’s important you match the speed of other drivers as this is the safest way to drive.
Other drivers expect you to be driving at the same pace as them and if you drive significantly slower you could create an unexpected hazard. Of course, driving too fast can have the same impact.
Remember, the speed limit on British motorways is usually 70mph. However, this can sometimes change due to roadworks or congestion; check overhead signs and the speed of other drivers for an indication of this.
TIP 3. USE YOUR MIRRORS
It’s sounds like common sense but maximum visibility is important when you’re driving on the motorway. You’re moving at high speed and so are the vehicles around you, so it’s important you’re always fully aware.
Use your rear-view mirror and both wing mirrors to give you the best possible view, especially when preparing to join or leave the motorway, or changing lanes.
Long stretches of most British motorway are straight, so a glance into your rear-view mirror can often give you a good view of what other drivers are doing immediately behind you and even several hundred metres away. Knowing what’s around you can be reassuring and also give you added confidence.
All cars have blind spots – areas around your car not reached by your mirrors – so don’t only reply on your mirrors. Turn your head and use actual eyesight to get the safest views.
TIP 4. OVERTAKE SAFELY
Motorways were originally designed to encourage free flowing traffic. It’s why there are three lanes (sometimes more) and why overtaking is a major part of safe motorway driving. Luckily, this is a lot more straightforward and much safer than many drivers think.
Most sensible motorway drivers leave a safe distance between themselves and the car in front. This creates a natural and safe space for other drivers to move into when they need to overtake slower moving vehicles.
As with all driving, this should still be done with care. So use your usual ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ routine to make sure it’s safe to overtake. Once done, sensibly move back in front of the vehicle you have overtaken, and avoid sitting in the middle or out lanes – these are mean to be used just for overtaking.
TIP 5. TWO SECOND RULE
Things usually happen quickly on Britain’s motorways. Traffic travels faster, drivers think quicker and things can change in the blink of an eye.
To make sure you’re prepared and have enough time to react, it’s important that you leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front. At higher speed, you’ll have less time to react but need more time and space to stop. So to keep yourself as safe as possible, leave at least a two second gap between you and the nearest car.
To check your two second distance, choose a fixed object (such as a road sign or marker) and when the car in front passes this, count two seconds out loud. If you pass the marker before reaching two seconds, you’re too near.
This two second gap should give you enough time to think and then take action if an incident occurs. It should also be enough time and space to brake safely if you need to stop suddenly. In poor weather conditions, you should double this to four seconds at least.
TIP 6. DON’T BE SURPRISED BY SURPRISES
Stay alert! Statistically, driving on the motorway is very safe. However, with so many cars, vans, trucks and lorries all travelling at such high speed, accidents do sometimes happen. And when they do, it can be serious.
Combine this with the unpredictable nature of the average human being, and you can see the importance of keeping focused on your driving and the driving of others.
Don’t demand perfection from other drivers. Instead, expect people to make mistakes, then adjust your own driving style to reflect this. Be a little more cautious. Leave more space, not less. Take more time andc care. Check, then double check before overtaking or pulling out. And watch the road in front and behind to help anticipate poor driving before it happens. At least this way, you won’t be caught by surprise if another driver makes a mistake. You won’t be quite as annoyed either.
TIP 7. CHECK YOUR CAR
Before setting off on your motorway journey, check to make sure your car is in the best possible condition. Driving at high speed for a long period of time will put a different strain on your vehicle, especially if you usually restrict your driving to shorter and slower moving urban roads.
To make sure you’re not caught out, check the essentials, including oil and water levels, tyre pressures, windscreen wipers and fluid, your brakes, and especially fuel levels and lights. Knowing your vehicle is less likely to let you down will give you the confidence to focus on your driving.
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TIP 8. BE PREPARED
A busy motorway is no place for panic or unnecessary worry. So the last thing you want is any uncertainty about where you’re going, or the route you’re taking.
Make sure you know which route you’re taking, including which junction you will use to leave the motorway and which direction you’ll head immediately after.
If you have access to SatNav, programme the co-ordinates before you set off. And print out a hard copy route guide, or bring a map, to use in case your technology fails.
Also remember that in the fast-paced and sometimes frenetic motorway environment, your brain switches pace to adjust. When you leave the motorway and find yourself travelling in slower traffic, it can take several minutes to adapt. This can be a little disconcerting if you’re not prepared, or expecting it; this can often be a time when drivers make mistakes or get caught speeding.
TIP 9. WATCH FOR HAZARDS
Thousands of vehicles travel across Britain’s motorway network every day, and the vast majority of drivers are sensible and considerate. They will often go out of their way to help fellow road users and this includes warning of potential hazards.
A simple yet effective way of doing this is to use hazard warning lights to inform drivers travelling behind. Seeing those flashing orange lights could be a sign of an accident, congestion or slow moving traffic ahead. As soon as you see this, slow down, take extra care and switch on your own hazard lights to warn other drivers.
TIP 10. LEAVE THE MOTORWAY SAFELY
For some, leaving the motorway can seem as tricky as joining it. In reality, it’s incredibly straightforward.
First, keep track of the junction numbers as you make your journey. You’ll find these at the foot of every large exit sign, telling you which roads and destinations the exit leads to. These appear one mile and ½ mile from each junction, giving you plenty of notice.
Once you see the sign for the junction you need, make sure you’re travelling safely in the left-hand lane. After you have passed the big ½ mile notice, look out for the first of three blue and white countdown markers. These are positioned 300, 200 and 100 yards (not metres) from the exit. Begin indicating when you reach the second marker.
You don’t need to reduce your speed at this point. Not all traffic in the left-hand lane will be leaving the motorway so it’s important the traffic flow isn’t slowed.
After the third marker, you will see the motorway filter onto the exit ramp. Smoothly move left onto this slip road and leave the motorway. Motorway speed regulations end here, so you can begin to reduce your speed as you approach the junction ahead.