Driving on the motorway for the first time

Driving on the motorway for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Here’s how to do it safely.

Driving on the motorway for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Here’s how to do it safely.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
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Posted 12 NOVEMBER 2020

How to be a more confident motorway driver

Since 2018, learners in England, Scotland and Wales have been able to take motorway driving lessons before passing their test, which can help build confidence behind the wheel. But motorway driving can still be intimidating, no matter how experienced you are. According to the AA, more than a third of drivers avoid using Britain’s motorways.

After passing your test, you won’t have the safety net of a driving instructor beside you, so try to practise your skills as much as you can. It can help to find a quieter stretch of motorway near where you live to get used to the road layout and signs before going on a longer journey where you might encounter busier motorways.

You could also consider a Pass Plus course to further enhance your skills.

Motorways are actually less dangerous than you might think. According to Highways England, UK motorways are among the safest roads in the world.

Motorway driving tips

Here are a few ways to drive safer on the motorway:

  • Prepare your car – check your lights, tyre pressure, oil levels, brake fluid and screen wash before you set off.
  • Plan your route – try to memorise the junction numbers where you’ll be joining and leaving the motorway so you’ll know when to get onto the inside lane. There’s always a chance your sat-nav will let you down at precisely the wrong moment, so it pays to be prepared.
  • Avoid distractions – give your driving your undivided attention. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the radio, scoffing a snack or chatting to passengers for example.
  • Check your mirrors – always be aware of what’s going on around you. Never get lulled into a false sense of security, as cars or motorbikes can approach quickly from behind. As well as indicating with plenty of time to spare, always give a quick glance over your shoulder before changing lanes to make sure nothing is in your blind spot.
  • Take a break – tiredness is said to cause as many as 3,000 accidents a year in the UK. Road safety charity Brake recommends taking a break at least every two hours if you’re on a long journey. A 15-minute coffee break could help you feel refreshed, but do not continue to drive if you still feel tired.

Joining and leaving the motorway

If you’re new to motorways, it could be tempting to slow down or even come to a standstill before joining one. But it can be dangerous to join the motorway at a slower speed to that which the motorway traffic is already travelling. If weather and driving conditions allow, you should build up speed on the slip road to match legal motorway speeds, and merge safely onto the motorway when there is a safe gap to do so.

Don’t forget to check your blind spot. If you do need to slow down, adjust your speed in the slip lane to avoid braking or stopping completely if possible.

When leaving a motorway, make sure you get into the correct lane well in advance so you don’t have to cut across the traffic. The exit should be clearly signed, and countdown markers will show you how close you are getting to it. Each bar represents 100 yards. Indicate your intent to leave the motorway and try to avoid braking until you’re on the slip road.

The rules of motorway driving

Motorways are very different to other roads. Understanding the rules can not only keep you safe, but can also help you avoid traffic offences.

  • Stay on the inside lane unless you’re overtaking. Hogging the middle lane is an offence and can result in an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three points on your licence
  • Remember your stopping distances – give yourself ample time to react
  • Allow a minimum of a two-second gap between you and the car in front. If the road is wet, make it at least a four-second gap between you and the car ahead. If the surface is icy, the gap should be even bigger.
  • Do not go over the motorway speed limit. You won’t always be able to travel at 70mph due to roadworks, accidents or bad weather, and watch out for speed reduction signs

For more information, read the motorway section of the Highway Code so you’re familiar with the rules and layouts.

How to drive on a smart motorway

Smart motorways use technologically advanced systems to control and manage the flow of traffic. On these sections of road the speed limit (shown on electronic signs) can change at busy times, and the hard shoulder can sometimes be opened up for cars to travel in. Smart motorway signals can be found on overhead gantries.

Motorway do’s and don’ts include:

  • Do keep an eye out for changing speed limits.
  • Don’t drive on the hard shoulder unless you’re told to. A solid white line indicates that it’s the hard shoulder. If it’s a driving lane, you’ll see a broken white line.
  • A red ‘X’ sign means the lane is closed, so don’t drive in it.
  • If your vehicle develops a problem, or a warning light comes on, exit the motorway as soon as you can. If you break down on the side of the motorway, put your hazard lights on immediately.

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