Driving on a Motorway
For newly qualified drivers, remember you can't drive on a motorway as a learner, the thought of driving on a motorway can cause dread and fear. However motorways are the safest roads in Britain and are an excellent way of covering long distances quickly. The following guide will hopefully prepare you for the day you make your motorway debut.
Joining The Motorway
You join a motorway by using a slip road, the procedure for which is the same as for when joining a dual carriageway. To watch our dual carriageway joining video tutorial. The main points to remember are:
- adjust your speed to match that of the traffic already on the motorway
- indicate to show your intention to join the motorway
- give priority to traffic already on the motorway
- join where there's a suitable gap in the left-hand lane
- use the MSM/PSL routine
- don't force your way into the traffic stream
- don't drive along the hard shoulder.
You may need to look over your right shoulder to verify the position of other vehicles. Try to avoid stopping at the end of the slip road unless queuing to join other slow-moving traffic.
Once on the motorway, keep to the left-hand lane until you've had time to assess and adjust to the speed of the traffic already on the motorway.
Some slip roads continue as a dedicated lane, so you will not have to join the motorway as described above. Signs and road markings will indicate if this is the case.
Driving On The Motorway
Motorways can have two, three or even four lanes.
A two-lane motorway - keep to the left-hand lane for normal driving. Use the right-hand lane for overtaking. Once you have finished overtaking you should move back to the left-hand lane as soon as it is safe to do so. Large goods vehicles are permitted to use either lane.
Three-lane motorway - you should stay in the left-hand lane unless you need to overtake slower moving traffic. To do this you should use the middle lane. If you need to overtake several vehicles then stay in the middle lane. There is no need to weave in and out of the left-hand lane as you overtake individual vehicles.
You should only use the outer lane to overtake slower moving vehicles when the left-hand and middle lanes are occupied with slower moving traffic.
When in either the middle or outer lanes, you must be prepared to move over, to the left or middle lanes, to let faster moving vehicles pass.
Large and heavy vehicles including buses, coaches, lorries and cars towing caravans or trailers are not permitted to use the outer lane so if such a vehicle approaches you from behind whilst you're in the middle lane make sure you pull into the left-hand lane, when safe to do so, so that you don't block the vehicles progress.
Changing Lanes and Overtaking on a Motorway:
- use the MSM/PSL routine well before you intend to change lanes
- look and, if necessary, signal in good time
- be aware that vehicles might come up behind you very quickly
- a quick sideways glance into the blind area may be necessary
- when safe to do so move steadily into the lane.
When Other Vehicles Join
When driving on the motorway you will often approach entrances where other vehicles can join. When doing so:
- if several vehicles are joining the motorway be prepared to adjust your speed
- if it is safe to do so, move out of the left-hand lane to make it easier for joining traffic to merge.
These are where motorways merge or separate. They may requite you to change lanes, sometimes more than once. Overhead direction signs will give you all the information you need to take the right direction.
Leaving A Motorway
You exit a motorway using a junction. These junctions are clearly marked with signs at one mile, then again at half a mile, and then countdown markers (right) at 300, 200 and 100 yards before the slip road to the exit begins.
Always try and be in the left-hand lane at around the half-mile sign. As on a dual carriage signal left as you pass the 300-yard countdown marker.
To leave the motorway:
- use the MSM/PSL routine in good time
- get into the correct lane early, unless you're already in the left-hand lane.
If you miss your intended junction the drive to the next junction, leave the motorway and rejoin in the opposite direction then continue to the required junction. Never try and reverse up the motorway to the slip road.
Stopping On A Motorway
You must only stop on a motorway if:
- red lights or other signs and signals tell you to do so
- your are asked to stop by the police, Highway Agency Traffic Officers or Vehicle and Operator Service Agency Officers
- it is an emergency
- it will prevent an accident.
Only stop on the hard shoulder in an emergency.
If you have to slow down or stop as a result of traffic congestion, switch on your hazard warning lights to warn traffic behind you of the obstruction ahead. Once you are sure they have been seen, switch them off.
For information on what to do when you breakdown on a motorway.
Safe Motorway Driving
The maximum speed limit on a motorway is 70mph. However, lets be honest this speed limit is regularly exceeded. Given the speeds reached on a motorway it is essential you try and anticipate what is happening far ahead of your vehicle. The speed means that in an emergency you will have less time to react.
Always keep a good distance between you and the vehicle in front, at least a two second gap on a dry day. If you see brake lights ahead then ease off the accelerator. Sudden braking on a motorway can be dangerous. It can cause vehicles behind to also slam on the brakes. This causes tailbacks and even collisions.
In order to get a clear picture of what's coming up behind you check your mirrors regularly.
Avoid getting boxed in, with a slow moving vehicle in front of you and another vehicle tailgating you behind. If this happens gently reduce your speed so to increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front and then when safe overtake the vehicle.
Pay attention to motorway signals. These signals will tell of any hazard or danger ahead. If a signal is active on the central reservation then the message it conveys is applicable to all lanes. If a signal is active above an individual lane the message conveyed applies only to that lane.
Flashing amber lights indicate a hazard ahead. A temporary maximum speed limit may also feature on the sign as well as other warning messages. Whenever you see these warning signals you must modify your speed and continue to comply with the instruction until you have passed a signal that is not flashing or one that gives the all clear sign.
Red flashing lights. If red lights on the overhead signals flash above your lane and a red ‘X’ is showing, you must not go beyond the signal in that lane. If red lights flash on a signal in the central reservation or at the side of the road, you must not go beyond the signal in any lane.
Don't get tired. Statistics show that 15-20% of motorway incidents are caused by fatigue, so be prepared to stop for a break every two to three hours, and always find a safe resting place if you start to feel tired.
These will help you determine the road layout.
- Red - between hard shoulder and carriageway.
- White - between lanes.
- Amber - between edge of carriageway and central reservation.
- Green - between carriageway and slip road exit and entrances.
- Fluorescent green/yellow - at contraflow systems and road works.
The Hard Shoulder
Generally speaking you should only ever use the hard shoulder in an emergency or when you break down. However, due to traffic congestion on a limited number of motorway sections the hard shoulder is now being used as an extra lane. You will know if you can use the hard shoulder as a normal lane if you see a speed limit sign above the hard shoulder.
Reduced visibility ahead
End of restriction
temporary maximum speed limit
Lane ahead closed
Do not proceed further in this lane
Leave motorway at the next exit
Temporary maximum speed limit and information message