Driving on the motorway is one of every new driver’s biggest fears. Three lanes of often constant traffic, moving at speeds faster than you’re able to go on any traditional single carriageway road. Quite often when listening to radio traffic announcements the vast majority of incidents have taken place on a motorway, showing just how dangerous these roads can be. Let us guide you through how to navigate your way around the nation’s major highways in the safest way possible.
How to drive on the motorway
There are a wide range of things you need to keep aware of when driving on the motorway, and keeping yourself safe and aware while on the road is paramount not only for yourself, but also for every other driver sharing the road with you. Here are a few of the things that you need to be aware of:
- Use your mirrors: This might seem an obvious one, but you’d be surprised just how many inexperienced motorway drivers don’t use those two external panes of glass to their full potential. If you’re only used to driving around town, chances are you only ever use your mirrors to park, but when on the motorway or dual carriageway, you should be checking them constantly. They allow you to know when it’s safe, or not, to execute any overtaking manoeuvres, whether that’s pulling into an outside lane to start the move, or back into the inside lane to complete the move.
- Lane discipline: On the subject of overtaking, many drivers can be tempted to sit in the middle lane to allow them to file past any slower vehicles without the need to keep merging in and out of lanes. Not only is this dangerous, but it is also illegal. ‘Middle lane hogging’ can land you a £100 on-the-spot fine and three penalty points. The Highway Code’s official wording is that you must ‘keep in the left lane unless overtaking’, adding that ‘if you are overtaking, you should return to the left lane when it is safe to do so’.
- Utilise slip roads: Keeping with the ‘use your mirrors properly’ theme, many drivers do not make the most of slip roads, often either trying to immediately cut into the inside lane and potentially cut another driver up, or alternatively just drive to the end of the slip road and, terrifyingly, stop at the end waiting to pull out into a gap. Slip roads are there for you to get up (or down) to the same speed that the motorway is currently moving, allowing you to seamlessly merge into a safe gap, whilst signalling your intention to move across with your indicators.
- Keep your distance: Tailgating isn’t just annoying, it’s outright dangerous. Stopping distances grow the faster you drive, and you want to ensure that you have enough space to come to a safe stop without piling into the car ahead of you in an emergency. The RAC says that to ensure safe driving you should always keep at least four car lengths between you and the car ahead when travelling at motorway speeds.
- Watch your speedometer: According to a report from the Department for Transport, 48% of all cars on the motorway exceed the speed limit of 70mph. Further research from Edinburgh Napier University showed that the majority of motorway drives are less than 50 miles, and that by driving at 80mph instead of 70mph will only save five minutes of journey time on average, questioning whether the added danger is really worth it to arrive just 300 seconds earlier.
Can learners drive on the motorway?
It always used to be a well known fact that learner drivers were not allowed to be on motorways, but a change in legislation in 2018 means that it is now acceptable for a learner driver to be on the motorway as long as the following criteria is met:
- They are accompanied by an approved driving instructor
- The car is fitted with dual controls.
What this means is that you can’t simply fit ‘L’ plates to your mum’s car and help her on the drive to your big family gathering with her in the passenger seat.
Can you take motorway driving lessons?
It is not compulsory for an instructor to offer motorway lessons, and it is at the discretion of the instructor to decide when he feels the learner is competent enough to be on the motorway. This will, naturally, be easier if you live close to a motorway, whereas if you live in a more rural environment, motorway driving is unlikely to be achievable as part of your lessons without a significant drive to get there first.
If you want some specific lessons after you’ve passed your test to improve your driving abilities, you can enrol on the Pass Plus scheme, which is a practical course of at least six hours and is likely to cover motorway driving.
Can you drive on the motorway with a spare tyre?
There’s no law stopping you from driving on the motorway if you’ve had to fit a ‘space-saver’ spare tyre, but to do so would be incredibly dangerous. A space-saver can only be driven to a maximum of 50mph, and to drive at that speed on the motorway is not the safest of options. While you may think driving above the limit is the biggest risk, to be driving so much at approximately 75% of the speed of all other users puts you in a very precarious position. You also should not drive on a space-saver for more than 50 miles, so if you have had to fit one, it’s best to try and find a local garage or tyre centre to get a proper replacement as soon as possible.
Can you drive a moped/quad bike on the motorway?
If you ride a 50cc moped, then don’t even think about heading down that slip road and onto the motorway. It is illegal and with a maximum speed of 30mph, you’ll be putting yourself and other road users at an unnecessarily high level of danger.
For a 125cc scooter, however, you have the ability to travel up to 68mph, which is much safer for motorway travel. Remember all of the above and keep your wits about you and you should be able to safely motor along.
If you have a quad bike that you wish to take on the motorway, and providing it is road legal, there are no laws stopping you. However, it is not recommended due to the inability to reach the average speed of most motorways. If your quad bike is only registered for agricultural, horticultural or forestry use, then it will not be allowed on the motorway.
What to do if you break down on the motorway
If you are in the unfortunate position to find yourself conking out when trundling along on the motorway, you will want to try and get over to the inside lane as quickly and safely as possible. Although ‘smart’ motorways are gradually seeing the hard shoulder replaced, there still are a large number of M-roads with one, and this is by far the safest place for you to pull over, out of live traffic.
You should also get out of the car – from the passenger side; never get out into oncoming traffic – and, where possible, get either behind a barrier or onto an embankment. From there, call for assistance either from your mobile phone or one of the emergency phones stationed along the carriageway, and wait in that same safe space for the help to arrive.
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