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 motorway driving after passing your test might be a daunting prospect. However, motorways do tend to be the UK’s safest roads.
Obviously, though, going straight onto the motorway without knowledge of the appropriate rules and regulations may end badly. 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!
Assuming you’re in a suitable vehicle, joining the motorway can often be the most disconcerting part of the whole experience, especially if it’s busy. Almost always you will join a motorway from a slip road that joins from the left of the first lane; it is important that you always give way to vehicles already travelling on the motorway as they’ll be travelling at a faster speed than you.
When travelling down the slip road, keep looking in your wing mirror and over your shoulder for a gap; motorists already in the first lane may move over for you to create such a gap, so be aware of this opportunity, but only join if you’re sure it’s safe to. Once joined, staying the left-hand lane until you have brought your car up to the speed of the traffic around you before you consider overtaking. Remember: never cross the solid white lines that separate the slip road from the motorway.
Once well on your way, keep to a cruising speed that is safe to the capabilities of both you and your car, and stay within the speed limit. It is important to keep a safe distance behind the car in front as, on motorways, the speeds are higher and therefore stopping distances are longer. This is doubly important when road conditions are poor.
The general rule of thumb when driving on a motorway is that you stay in the left-hand lane if the road ahead is clear, only moving over to the middle lane to overtake a slower car in front. On a three-lane motorway, using the far-right lane is used in a similar vain to the middle, but it should be rare that those in the middle lane are travelling below the speed limit. Only overtake on the right; overtaking on the left is deemed undertaking and while not illegal, it is greatly 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 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 not catch any motorists around you off guard.
For the most part, the speed limit on the motorway will be the usual 70mph. However, in the event of heavy traffic, and accident or road works, this could change and change quite quickly.
There will be several ways in which you will be signalled to change your speed. If entering road works, for example, any change in speed limit will be likely signalled through signs on the side of the carriageway, while a change in speed due to an accident or heavy traffic will be communicated via light-up signals on the gantry above the road or on the central reservation. An average speed area will generally appear where long-term road works are and will be enforced by speed cameras.
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 is very much discouraged and can be very dangerous to you and other road users.
The emergence of Smart Motorways in the UK has grown throughout its road system and can be found on parts of key motorways such as the M1, M25, M62 and M6.
These have been established to help the flow of traffic become more efficient and lower the chance of accidents. 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.
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.
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