Introduction to Motorway Driving

Motorway Driving Tips

Driving on the motorway for the first time? When you’re prepared, there’s no need for nerves

Once you’ve mastered the standard driving skills, it’s time for your next challenge; conquering motorway driving. It might feel daunting – the extra lane, driving at faster speeds, having so much more to be aware of – but, with a little preparation, there’s really no need to stress or feel scared. 

As long as you remain calm, follow the motorway rules, and keep a close eye on your surroundings, you’ll be able to stay in control and remain safe when driving on the motorway. 

From the 4th June 2018 Learner drivers are now allowed to drive on a motorway, but only with a qualified driving instructor (DVSA ADI – Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency Approved Driving Instructor) AND the vehicle needs to be fitted with dual controls. So a parent or any other accompanying driver is not able to take a learner driver onto a motorway.

We’ve put together some useful motorway guidance to help you know what to expect and feel ready to confidently drive on motorways in any conditions.

Motorway Driving Tips

1. Joining the motorway 

The first thing you need to know is how to properly join a motorway. When driving on the slip road entrance – also known as the acceleration lane – try to build speed so you can match the other drivers already on the motorway. These lanes by law must be at least quarter of a mile long, giving you enough time to build up speed. 

Once on the slip road, you should have your right-hand indicator on to signal you will be joining the left lane. Make sure there’s a safe gap to pull into on the motorway – the long slip road gives you more chance of adjusting your speed to find a safe gap. Often other drivers will move into the middle lane to let people join with ease. This is also something you should consider doing if you can when you see people trying to join a motorway you’re already on.

2. Drive at the speed limit, when appropriate

The normal motorway speed limit is 70 mph, and you should wherever possible try to drive at the speed limit. Of course we always advise against going over the speed limit, but it can also be dangerous to drive too far under the speed limit as well. You should aim to keep up with traffic around you (while maintaining a safe distance) which should put you at around 70 mph. If there are poor weather conditions, then you may need to reduce your speed in order to drive safely. 

Take note of any changes to the speed limit – such as temporary or variable speed limits which you will be shown on the overhead gantries. Some areas may have 50 mph or 60 mph speed limits in place, and often will have average speed cameras in use to enforce these. When there are average speed cameras, remember these will average out your speed from when you encounter each one – so you should try to stick to whatever the designated limit is.

3. Choose the correct lane

You should always aim to drive in the left-hand lane, as the middle and right-hand lanes are for overtaking. If you find yourself needing to overtake someone in the left-hand lane, check your mirrors, use your indicator, and move to the middle lane – if there’s a safe gap to do so (you never want to make anyone already in the lane need to brake for you).

Once you’ve overtaken, move back to the left-hand lane when you can. You shouldn’t drive in the middle or right-hand lanes unnecessarily, and if there’s no one in the left-hand lane that you’re driving faster than, then you should move back and avoid hogging the middle lane. It’s also important to be aware that it is a motoring offence to drive in the centre or right-hand lane unnecessarily and since July 2014 this can carry a £100 fine plus 3 penalty points

4. Adverse weather conditions

When dealing with ice and snow, fog, rain, or heavy winds, you need to take extra care driving on the motorway. These weather conditions can reduce visibility, which means you need to be even more prepared for the possibility of what could go wrong. Make sure you have your headlights on so others can see you. Fog lights should only be switched on when visibility is 100 metres or less. When conditions improve then your fog lights should be switched off. The reason for this is that rear fog lights are much brighter than the normal tail lights and can mask vision of brake lights in better conditions.

You should also leave a greater distance between you and the car in front when it’s wet or icy, as this will give you more time to react if anything goes wrong or the person in front swerves or stops unexpectedly. We recommend using the 2, 4, 10 rule: You should as a minimum be at a following distance of 2 seconds or preferably more in the dry, 4 seconds in the wet and 10 seconds in snow/icy conditions. This is easily calculated by watching when the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed point such as a bridge or road sign and then counting the seconds until you reach the same point. Another useful tip is to say ‘Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule’, This takes 2 seconds to say. On a wet road just say this twice.

You may also want to drive slower in difficult weather conditions, so you feel more in control of your vehicle. For more advice on driving in wet or icy conditions, read our full winter driving advice.

5. Stay aware and anticipate 

It’s essential you stay focused at all times, as there’s a lot going on around you that you’ll need to pay attention to. Are you driving at the right speed? Have you left enough space between you and the car in front? Are you avoiding drifting into a different lane? Do you need to change lanes to overtake? Are any of the cars around you likely to move into your lane? 

By paying attention, you’ll be able to stay one step ahead and anticipate what other road users may do before they do it, and can prepare to act accordingly. When there’s a motorway exit coming up, you may see more drivers moving into the left-hand lane to turn off and traffic slowing down. Some may even leave it later than they should to switch lanes, so may try to cut in front of you. Another example is If you’re currently driving in the middle lane and you notice lorries in the left-hand lane, be ready for cars behind the lorry to move into the middle lane to overtake them.

6. Know when to use your hazard lights

Occasionally traffic may suddenly slow down on the motorway. This could be due to a previous accident, where traffic is not yet flowing as normal again. If you come across slow or stopped traffic on the motorway, switch on your hazard lights to let the following vehicles realise that you’re not just slowing down a little, but coming to a more rapid stop. Leave the hazard lights on until either the vehicle behind you begins to slow down or put their own hazard lights on. Many modern cars will now switch the hazard lights on automatically when the car senses heavy braking.

7. In case of a motorway breakdown

Breakdowns can be stressful at the best of times, but even more so on a motorway. If you feel there’s an issue with your car when driving, try to turn off at the next service station if you think you are able to make it. If you need to stop more immediately, move across to the motorway hard shoulder and put on your hazard lights straight away. You should also quickly get everyone out of the car and on the other side of the safety barrier or onto the embankment.

Once your car is fully stopped, use your phone to call for help or look for the marker post indicating the nearest motorway phone. These marker posts are 100 meters apart, with emergency phones situated a mile apart. The phone will be numbered which helps you tell the Highway Agency your exact location. When ready to re-join the motorway, use the hard shoulder like the slip road or acceleration lane to build up and match the speed that you are joining. If a breakdown service attends they will advise you to do this once your car has been fixed.

8. Leaving the motorway

You might have a sat nav in your car that tells you when to leave the motorway, but we’d also advise planning your journey out ahead of time, so you can know which junction you will be leaving at. Keep an eye on road signs on the motorway, as they will let you know when your exit is coming up. Move over to the left-hand lane with plenty of time before you need to turn off.

There will be countdown signs starting when you are 300 yards away – and this is the point that you should start indicating left to turn off. Keep your speed up until you turn off the motorway onto your exit slip road (also known as the deceleration lane again to reduce speed to math the slower moving traffic you will now be joining), so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic on the motorway.

We hope this motorway driving advice will help you feel prepared to handle driving on any motorway and be able to stay safe in whatever situation you encounter. If you’d like some extra guidance to help you gain confidence in your motorway driving, we can take you out on a Pass Plus course that includes motorway sessions.


> Find out more about the Pass Plus course

Learner drivers and new drivers can enjoy the flexibility of paying for insurance by the mile and earn a £10 voucher* with Pay As You Go Insurance from Marmalade.
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