How to drive on a motorway: simple tips to cut the stress

Not so long ago, learner drivers weren’t allowed on the motorway. That’s now changed, and new drivers can learn how to drive on a motorway before taking their practical test. You just need to be with an instructor in a car with dual controls.

Maybe you don’t live near a motorway, or perhaps you want some pointers before driving without the safety of an instructor beside you.

First of all, remember that motorways are our safest roads. Although speeds of up to 70mph may be legal, there are no pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders to worry about, and everyone on your side of the central reservation is going in the same direction. It’s just that with such high speeds, one mistake can have serious consequences.

Here’s how to make driving on a motorway safe and stress-free…

How to drive on a motorway

  • Keep left. Stay in the left-hand lane unless you are overtaking. It’s an offence to lane-hog by sitting in the middle lane. You could be fined £100 and face three penalty points for doing this.
  • Watch your speed. Although the speed limit on most stretches of motorway is 70mph, a safe speed may be lower if it’s wet, windy, or foggy. Look out for variable speed limit signs on gantries above the motorway, and obey them if they show the limit has been reduced.
  • Leave a safe gap. At 70mph you travel over 30 metres every second. So although motorways are very safe roads, one lapse of concentration can lead to a severe collision. In good weather, leave a two-second gap to the car in front. Double that to four seconds in wet weather. If it’s really foggy and you can see less than 100 metres, put your fog lights on and make sure you are driving slowly enough to stop in the distance you can see to be safe.

How to drive on a motorway: joining the road

  • Build speed on the sliproad. You need to match your speed to the traffic in the inside lane. Glance from the road ahead to your right to find a safe gap to pull into.
  • Don’t force your way out. Many drivers will move out a lane to make it easier for other cars to join the motorway, but they don’t have to make room. It’s up to the driver joining the motorway to find a safe gap.
  • Check over your shoulder, indicate right, and pull into the gap. Don’t move out across hatchings or solid white lines. Wait for the dotted line that marks where the sliproad meets the motorway.
  • If the sliproad becomes a motorway lane, this process is easier. You can simply stay in the same lane. Signs to the side of the sliproad will show you whether you can stay in the lane or have to pull out.

How to drive on a motorway: overtaking

  • Look in your mirrors. Watch for a safe gap in traffic in the lane to your right which you can pull into. Don’t push your way out forcing another driver to slow down.
  • Check over your shoulder. Make sure there’s no vehicle in your blind spot.
  • Signal that you are changing lanes. Move out smoothly, you don’t need to steer hard.
  • Return to the inside lane when you have overtaken the vehicle. Don’t cut straight back in, remember to leave the other driver a safe gap. Check in your mirror and over your shoulder before moving back to the inside lane.

How to drive on a motorway: leaving the road

  • Plan ahead. Know the number of the motorway exit you will be taking so that you are ready for it.
  • Move to the inside lane. Make sure you are to the left of the motorway, ready to exit well before you reach the junction. Sweeping across at the last minute from one of the outer lanes is very dangerous. There will be signs showing that the junction is coming up, usually a mile and then half a mile before the exit. If the road is busy, move safely into the left-hand lane around the mile mark. Even if traffic is very light, move across by the 300-yard marker (a sign with three diagonal bars on it) at the latest.
  • Indicate left to show that you plan to leave the motorway. Do this before you reach the 200-yard marker to give other road users plenty of time to understand what you are doing.
  • Try to avoid braking on the motorway itself unless there’s a queue backing up from the sliproad. Save your braking until you have pulled onto the sliproad.
  • If there’s more than one lane on the sliproad, move to the correct lane as soon as it is safe so you can continue your journey on the right route.

Click here for more tips from National Highways about how to drive safely on motorways.

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