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Getting to grips with motorway driving


Owe Carter



Getting to grips with motorway driving

Many people find motorway driving easier than other types of driving. Other than when you get on or off the motorway, there aren’t really any junctions or roundabouts to deal with… You’re just putting yourself on a conveyor belt, and the only manoeuvre you really have to do is switch lanes.

However, until you get the practice in, it can be understandably daunting. It’s a fast road, and can be dangerous when things go wrong. But we think you’ll be absolutely fine. And here are some things to know to help you on your (motor)way!

How do I join the motorway?

The most common way to join a motorway is via a slip road, which always feeds into a motorway from the left.

There are other ways though. There’s often a roundabout at the very end of the motorway, or an A-road might become a motorway.

Let’s say you’re on the slip road. These are designed to get you up to speed with the rest of the traffic, so you’ve usually got a bit of a run-up.

Traffic already on the motorway has priority. Check your mirrors to see what’s happening with traffic, and don’t forget to check your blind spot.

If the left motorway lane is free, you can cross over the broken line and join the motorway.

If there’s traffic in the left lane, you may have to fit into a gap. Get up to speed with the traffic flow, and keep checking your mirrors. Check your blind spot and – if you’re confident you’ll fit into the gap – cross the broken line and join the left lane.

You may see other motorists behind you flash you in your mirror. This means they’re giving way to you, so you can join the motorway in front of them. Don’t assume it’s safe to do so though… Be sure to make your own safety checks before you commit.

Right, I’m on the motorway… What now?

The main thing to bear in mind is that you should stay in the left-hand lane, unless you’re overtaking. Or road signs tell you otherwise.

One of the myths to tackle right away is that of the ‘fast lane’. There’s no such thing. The left-hand lane is your default lane, and the other lanes are overtaking lanes.

On this point, it’s important to avoid hogging the middle lane. This isn’t just a driving annoyance – middle-lane hogging has actually been an offence since 2013. If the police catch you, you risk a £100 on-the-spot fine, and 3 points on your licence for careless driving. Unless you intend to overtake something, stick to the left lane.

During regular motorway driving, you want to keep things nice and smooth. Always stay calm. Keep your distance from other vehicles, and remember the 2-second rule.

Give yourself plenty of time to change lanes if you need to. When it comes to switching lanes, be sure to indicate in good time. Keep checking your mirrors, and always check your blind spot before you switch.

The main exception to defaulting to the left-hand lane is at certain motorway exits. Sometimes the left lane might be reserved for traffic taking the next exit, for instance. If this is the case, and you’re going straight on, move into the next lane over. Always do this in good time though. Don’t panic and lurch over… There’s usually about a mile before the exit actually arrives, so you’ve got plenty of time to move over safely.

Also, the motorway may split. This is common if two or more motorways intersect, for example. When this happens, there’ll be road signs which clearly display the lane you need to be in to get to your destination. Again, make your way over to the correct lane in good time.

What’s the hard shoulder for?

Thanks for asking. The hard shoulder is the emergency lane, which shoulders the motorway. You should avoid driving in this, unless directed to by signage – for example, if there are roadworks on the main carriageway.

You should only ever pull over on the hard shoulder in an emergency. The two main reasons why you should do so are if your car breaks down, or if you’re involved in an accident.

How do I exit the motorway?

So you’re approaching your exit. When it’s time to get off the motorway, you typically leave via a slip road (or link road if you’re joining another fast road) on the left-hand side. The exit will be clearly signposted. They also tend to have three countdown signs for each hundred metres leading up to the junction.

Make sure you’re in the left-hand lane. To signal that you intend to leave the motorway, indicate in plenty of time. When you cross the broken line onto the slip road, begin to slow down.

Bear in mind that, after travelling at high speed, you may well be going faster than you think. Rule 274 of The Highway Code warns that:

“...your speed may be higher than you realise - 50 mph may feel like 30 mph. Check your speedometer and adjust your speed accordingly.”

Slip roads and link roads sometimes have fairly sharp bends, so it’s important to slow down to a speed where you’re fully in control, and can stop if necessary.

Can learner drivers drive on the motorway?

If you’ve recently learnt to drive in Great Britain, you’ll know the answer is yes.

While learner drivers can’t legally drive on motorways in Northern Ireland (at the time of writing), they’ve been able to have lessons on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales since 2017.

Learners can’t take additional lessons with family or friends though. They have to be accompanied by a driving instructor, and the car needs to have dual controls.

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