7 Tips for Driving on The Motorway

If you want to drive on the motorway in the UK, there are certain rules that you should be aware of that might not be the same as on other roads. Here are 7 motorway driving tips to help make your driving experience a safe and enjoyable one:

Get familiar with the layout of the motorway

One of the most important things to do before setting off on a journey is to familiarise yourself with the route, and this is especially true for motorways. Take some time to study a map or use a sat nav to become familiar with the layout of the motorway you’ll be driving on, including any junctions, exits and lane changes.

All the road signs on a motorway have a specific meaning and purpose, so you must know what each one of them means before you start driving. If you’re unsure about any of the signs, there are plenty of resources available that can help you to identify them.

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Make sure your vehicle is in good condition before you set off

This is true for driving on any road, but it’s even more important on the motorway due to the high speeds and risks involved in breaking down. Before setting off, make sure that you have enough fuel. Check that your tyres are properly inflated and have plenty of tread depth, your windscreen wipers are in good condition and you have enough screen wash. Check your lights and oil level, topping up if necessary.

Be aware of the speed limit

The national speed limit for cars on a motorway is 70 mph, but in some conditions (such as wet weather) it’s advisable to drive at a slower speed.

Speed limits are often different for Smart Motorways – these are motorways where the speed limit can be changed depending on the conditions. Watch out for the variable speed limits displayed on signs and make sure you adhere to the limit that’s displayed, prioritising the signposted speed limit over the national speed limit.

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Understand how to use the lanes correctly

When joining the motorway, make sure to build up speed on the entry slip road before merging into the flow of traffic. Once you’re on the motorway, keep to the left unless you need to overtake.

Unless you’re overtaking another vehicle, you should always stay in the left-hand lane. If you need to overtake, you should use the middle lane or the right-hand lane – but only for as long as it’s necessary. Once you’ve finished overtaking, move back into the left lane.

If you need to exit the motorway, move into the appropriate lane in good time so that you can exit smoothly.

Take breaks when driving on the motorway

If you’re driving for a long period of time, it’s important to take regular breaks to avoid fatigue. The Highway Code states that you should take a break at least every two hours, and this is particularly important when driving on the motorway.

Find a safe place to stop and park your vehicle, making sure you’re not blocking the road or putting yourself or others in danger.

Motorway service stations are a good place to stop for a break, and they’re located at regular intervals along most motorways. Once you’ve stopped, take 15 minutes to stretch your legs, have a drink of water and maybe grab a snack.

Keep your distance from other vehicles

It’s important to maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front, especially on the motorway where speeds are high. A good rule of thumb is to leave a gap of at least two seconds (or 4 in wet weather) between you and the vehicle in front. This should give you enough time to react if they need to brake suddenly.

Be prepared for emergencies

If you do breakdown on the motorway, don’t panic – just stay calm and take the following precautions:

  • Move your vehicle to the hard shoulder and turn on your hazard lights.
  • Look out for Emergency Refuge Areas if driving on a smart motorway, as some lack a hard shoulder.
  • If you can, exit your vehicle from the left-hand side and stand well away from the road when waiting for help.
  • If it’s too dangerous to leave your vehicle, then stay inside with your seatbelt fastened and call 999 for assistance.
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Following all these tips should help to make you a safer driver on motorways. Remember to always drive at a safe speed, be aware of the road signs and markings, and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue.

FAQs

What is the national speed limit on a motorway?

The national speed limit on a motorway is 70 mph, but that may vary when driving on smart motorways.

For some heavier vehicles (>7.5 tonnes), the speed limit is 60 mph. It’s always best to check the posted speed limit and adjust your speed accordingly.

Can I use the hard shoulder on a motorway?

You should only use the hard shoulder in the event of a breakdown or emergency. If you need to stop for any other reason, you should exit the motorway at the next exit.

What are Smart Motorways?

Smart Motorways are motorways where the speed limit can be changed according to the conditions. These changes will be displayed on overhead signs, so it’s important to stay aware of the posted speed limit when driving on a Smart Motorway.

Another big difference with Smart Motorways is that the hard shoulder may be open to traffic at certain times. This will also be displayed on overhead signs, so pay attention to the signs and drive accordingly.

Can learner drivers drive on the motorway?

Yes, but they must be accompanied by an approved driving instructor in a car fitted with dual controls. This differs from the rules for driving on other roads, where learner drivers can drive accompanied by any qualified driver.