5 Top Tips for Learning to Drive Safely on Motorways

by Brady Myles - 4 Min Read

It’s finally happening! After years of discussion and consultation, learners will be allowed out on motorways from next month – but what rules should you know before heading out?

Come June 4th and learners will be able to drive on the UK’s network of motorways for the first time – as long as they are being supervised by an approved instructor in a car fitted with dual controls. While your ADI will of course give you a heads-up on what to expect – and what rules you should follow – before embarking on your first motorway driving lesson, best to swot up now so you’re fully prepared for any eventuality:

1. Using Slip Roads

A major rule of motorway driving is one that even seasoned motorists can get confused by; when coming down a slip road to join a motorway, it’s a common misconception that any vehicle in the left-hand lane must move over into the middle lane to give you the space to move out safely onto the motorway.

Alas, it’s actually the other way round; the law states that those on the slip road must give way to traffic on motorways. That said, most vehicles in the left-hand lane show common sense and courtesy by pulling into the middle lane to allow you out.

Long may the tradition continue as well because for learners, that slip road onto the motorway can be a daunting experience. To help ease you into the process, best practise on a dual-carriageway first where the same slip road rule applies.


2. Using Lanes

Just because there are three lanes doesn’t mean you can use them any way you want. Instead, you must stay in the left-hand lane if you’re not overtaking. If you are overtaking, make sure you move back into the left-hand lane once you’re past the slower-moving vehicle/s.

Remember, if you end up absentmindedly sitting in the middle lane, you can be done by the police, fined £100 and given three insurance premium-swelling points on your licence. And fair enough – after all, hogging the middle lane can cause congestion plus can create a hazard as other vehicles over- or undertake you in frustration.

And talking of undertaking, don’t do it; you must always pass on the right-hand side of a vehicle. The exception? If there is traffic on the motorway causing congestion, it can lead to the left-hand lane naturally moving more quickly than the traffic in other lanes – so it’s okay to follow its flow.

3. Using common sense

Because you will typically be driving at 70mph (unless on the M25 or M6 where the average speed feels more like 15mph…), you will need to ensure you leave enough space between your car and the vehicle ahead. It means if something should happen, you will have the time needed to react.

The basic rule of thumb? Use a marker at the side of the motorway (such as a sign, tree or bush) and count two seconds once the vehicle in front has passed it; if you pass the marker on two seconds, you’re in the sweet spot. If you pass it in under two seconds, you need to back off. If the roads are wet, ensure you double the second count and in icy conditions, triple it.


4. Using Hard Shoulders

No, these are not designated emergency pee stops, no matter what your bladder might tell you; hard shoulders are there to be used in emergencies only such as when your car breaks down.

If you do need to use one, pull up on to it as far as possible on the left with the wheels turned left too. Put on your hazard lights immediately and don’t turn off your sidelights if it’s dark or if there’s fog; other motorists must still be able to see you.

Finally, try and get out of the car on the side that is furthest away from the motorway before waiting behind the barrier where possible. Then call your breakdown service provider or alternatively, use one of the emergency phones that can be found at regular points along the hard shoulder.

5. Using Smart Motorways

If dealing with a regular motorway wasn’t confounding enough, there are also Smart Motorways springing up the length and breath of Britain. The same basic motorway rules apply but with added challenges including being allowed to drive on the hard shoulder (under certain conditions), red ‘X’ lanes and emergency refuge areas.

Confused? Don’t be – to learn more about what to do and what not to do when using them, head to our full Smart Motorway guide here.

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Main image © Clive Darra


    • Brady Myles

      Thanks for your comment. The US video featured was selected because it shows the dangers of not leaving enough space – or tailgating – and its potentially catastrophic consequences.

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