Motorway Driving - Tips to Stay Safe


Know the rules and highway code of the UK motorway

During your driving lessons, you’ll tend to get very used to and comfortable with driving on the usual mix of A and B-Roads, but the prospect of driving for the first time on the motorway after passing your driving test might be a daunting prospect. However, motorways are some of the UK's safest roads. Obviously, though, going straight onto the motorway without knowledge of the appropriate rules and regulations can be dangerous for you and other motorists. So, in order to give you a bit more confidence about driving on the UK’s fastest roads, here are a few tips to follow.

First of all, not just any vehicle can join the motorway. They should not be used by: pedestrians, holders of provisional motorcycle or car licences, motorcycles under 50cc, cyclists, horse riders, certain slow-moving vehicles and those carrying oversized loads. You may know from new stories in the past that mobility scooters are also prohibited from driving on the motorway also!

Joining a motorway safely

You'll always join the motorway from a slip road, which is a stretch of road that you can use to build up speed ready to join the traffic. The slip road will merge into the first lane of the motorway and you will need to navigate onto the first lane whilst being aware of other drivers who will be travelling at faster speeds of around 70mph. To do this safely you'll need to use your driver-side mirror and be aware of gaps in the traffic that you can safely slip into from the slip road. Gadging your speed is important so you can join the motorway safely and not as a hazard to other motorists

Driving on the motorway safely

Once joined, stay in the left-hand lane until you have brought your car up to the speed of the traffic. Always keep two cars length from you and, if the car in-front and if the car behind is dangerously close to your vehicle, it is considered safe practice to then put further distance between you and the motorist in front.

aerial view of a motorway
aerial view of a motorway

Motorway lane discipline explained

On the motorway you should always stay in the left-hand lane unless you are overtaking. Other drivers can only overtake you on your right hand side so staying in the most left-hand lane gives maximum space to other drivers. The middle and outside lane are for overtaking only and you should adhere to these rules for your own safety from motorists who are speeding or otherwise acting unsafely. Whilst 'undertaking' on the left of a vehicle is not illegal, it is discouraged by the highway code.

Using your mirror when overtaking on the motorway is key. Take your time to judge whether it is safe to overtake and make sure the lane you’re joining has plenty of space for your vehicle at the speed you’re travelling and that no one from behind will catch you up during your manoeuvre. Meanwhile, the hard shoulder should never be used to overtake, even if it is open to traffic.

It is also important to keep an eye out for any signs that may determine you to change lanes because of road works or an accident, so be aware. New motorway rules introduced in 2013 mean that, those determined to be tailgating the car in front or lane hogging in any other lane than the left, can face an on-the-spot-fine of £100 and three points on their licence.

You should never stop on the motorway unless it is in an emergency - that includes the hard shoulder. If you do need to stop in an emergency, get to the hard shoulder if you can do so safely; if you have to stop in your current lane in an emergency, put your hazards on immediately and stop gradually to help other motorists around you.

Speed regulations on the motorway

The maximum speed limit on a UK motorway is 70mph. Unless stated otherwise this is the speed limit for the motorway you are driving on or about to join. Speed limits are likely to be changed to help reduce congestion caused by heavy traffic, road works or accidents.

You will be signalled to change your speed in several ways on a motorway. If entering an area under road works, for example, any change in speed limit will be likely signalled through signs on the side of the carriageway. Elsewhere the adjusted speed limit of a motorway section can be signalled on the overhead digital signs that can display a series of motorway information. An average speed area will generally appear where long-term road works are in place and will be enforced by speed cameras.

Smart motorways

Smart motorways now cover over 400 miles of the UK's road network and can be found on key parts of the M1, M25, M62 and M6. Smart motorways are designed to help the flow of traffic over 100s of miles and to ease congestion at key junctions along the carriageway. Speed changes are now more frequent on smart motorways as they constantly calculate congestion and adjust speed limits accordingly to help motorists navigate busy parts of the country. There are many variables to Smart Motorways and the rules are different depending on what type of Smart Motorway you’re on, but signs will help you know what the current situation is. Our complete Guide to Smart Motorways can be found here.

drivers dashboard showing speedometer and rev counter
drivers dashboard showing speedometer and rev counter

Driving on the motorway at night

Similarly to driving in winter, driving on the motorway at night is all about visibility and driving more carefully. Ensure your car’s exterior lighting is clean and fully functional, so this means making sure your headlights and brake lights are clean and all bulbs are working as they should.

It is important that you give yourself even more time to make manoeuvres, as it is harder to judge the speed of cars at night. However, motorways at night do tend to be quieter, so you should be given ample time to join the motorway and perform overtakes much easier than in the day. Just remember that driving on the motorway whilst tired can be very dangerous to you and other road users. It is advised break up long trips with regular rests at motorway service stations.

Reflective motorway driving studs - what they mean

When driving at night, use the reflective motorway studs as guidance for navigating lanes and for joining and departing motorways safely. Here is what they mean for motorists.

Red studs: Division between motorway hard shoulder and an active motorway lane

Amber studs: Division between motorway central reservation and an active motorway lane

White studs: Division between active motorway lanes

Green studs: Division between slip road and active motorway lane

Pass plus training course for motorway driving

If you’ve just passed your test or are yet to venture onto the motorway, the Pass Plus course can be a great way to build up some confidence and knowledge before tackling them independently.

The Pass Plus is relatively short and takes just a maximum of six hours to complete and helps you to cover parts of driving that will not have been part of your initial lessons. It will cover: town driving, all-weather driving, rural roads, driving at night, on dual carriageways and on motorways.

To take the course, you’ll need to team up with a Pass Plus registered driving instructor (ADI) and part with between £100-150 to pay for their time. The course is done over six modules (an hour each) and, while there’s no formal test, you will be assessed and you’ll need to hit a required standard to pass.

It is said that Pass Plus not only gives you extra confidence on the road, but also helps you bring down your insurance premium as it makes you a more experienced driver. While this is true in some cases, not all insurers will allow you a discount by doing the Pass Plus course, so don’t do it just to get cheaper insurance.