Motorway Driving

Motorway Driving

Navigating motorways can initially appear overwhelming, especially for new drivers. It’s common for learners to avoid motorways until after they’ve obtained their licence. At first, motorways might look complicated and somewhat daunting.

However, you may find it interesting that motorways are among the safest roads for driving. Many drivers find them less challenging than other types of roads. But, why is it mandatory to be accompanied by a driving instructor when you first drive on a motorway?

The reason lies in the high speeds maintained on motorways. Even minor errors can lead to serious repercussions here. Consequently, motorways are not the ideal place for beginners to practise their driving skills. High-speed driving reduces the time available to respond to sudden changes.

Therefore, when driving on a motorway, it’s crucial to frequently check your mirrors and observe the road far ahead. This practice helps you foresee and prepare for necessary changes well in advance. Once you’re proficient in driving, motorways can indeed be quite straightforward.

This is partly because all vehicles on your side of the central reservation are moving in the same direction and, ideally, at similar speeds.

Should you feel the need for additional motorway driving experience, consider taking a Pass Plus course. It’s also advisable to enhance your defensive driving skills.

Entering a Motorway

Understanding Slip Roads

When entering a motorway, you use a slip road, which is a short road designed to facilitate a smooth transition onto the motorway.

Entering a Motorway

Image source: Geograph

The primary purpose of a slip road is to provide you with sufficient time and space to accelerate to the appropriate speed that matches the flow of traffic on the motorway. This process is essential for maintaining safety and efficiency on these high-speed roads.

Prioritising Safety and Traffic Flow

A critical aspect of using slip roads is ensuring that you do not stop or reverse under any circumstances. Stopping on a slip road can be extremely dangerous, leading to potential accidents due to the high-speed nature of motorway traffic.

Additionally, it’s crucial to give priority to vehicles already travelling on the motorway. These vehicles have the right of way, and it’s your responsibility to find a safe gap to merge into the traffic.

Cooperation from Other Motorists

Typically, motorists on the motorway are aware of joining traffic from slip roads and often display cooperative behaviour. They may move over to other lanes when safe to do so, allowing new traffic to merge seamlessly from the slip road. This collective effort helps maintain the flow of traffic and enhances safety for everyone on the road.

Merging into Traffic

In some instances, slip roads directly merge into the left lane of the motorway. In these situations, your main focus should be on building up your speed to match that of the motorway traffic.

Unlike other scenarios where you may need to merge into the middle or right lanes, here, the merging process is somewhat simplified as you are directly entering the leftmost lane of the motorway.

However, it’s still important to remain vigilant and ensure you’re merging safely, keeping an eye on both the traffic on the motorway and any potential hazards.

Lanes on the Motorway

Understanding Lane Discipline

The lane discipline on motorways is a crucial aspect of safe and efficient driving. One of the most common issues experienced drivers complain about is middle-lane hogging, where drivers occupy the middle lane unnecessarily. It’s essential to understand that the middle and right lanes are primarily for overtaking.

Overtaking Procedures

When overtaking on a motorway, especially at high speeds, it’s vital to ensure safety by checking your blind spot, typically over your right shoulder.

Always use your mirrors and indicate clearly to signal your intentions to other road users. Overtaking should be executed swiftly and safely, returning to the left lane when the manoeuvre is completed.

Using the Left Lane

The left lane is generally where you should be if you are not overtaking. It’s often used by heavy goods vehicles and cars towing trailers, so be prepared to adjust your speed accordingly.

If you find yourself catching up to slower traffic in the left lane, use the middle or right lane to overtake, ensuring you adhere to the speed limit and all road safety rules.

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Lane Changes and Exits

Be aware that lane configurations can change. For instance, a lane that is appropriate for your route at the start of your journey might later become an exit lane.

To avoid missing your exit or having to make last-minute lane changes, keep a vigilant eye on road signs, both overhead and at the side of the road.

These signs provide crucial information about lane usage, upcoming exits, and any changes in the road layout, helping you to stay in the correct lane throughout your journey.

The Highway Code on the Motorway

General Rules and Safety

Motorways have specific rules that differentiate them from regular roads. The most critical rules include the prohibition of walking, picking up or dropping off passengers, unless in an absolute emergency.

These regulations are in place for safety reasons, considering the high speeds and volume of traffic on motorways.

Understanding Signs and Symbols

Motorway signs are distinguishable by their blue backgrounds. These signs are visible on the approach to motorways and are regularly spaced along the carriageway.

Motorway sign with blue background

Signs indicating tourist destinations have brown backgrounds, while junction numbers are shown as white numbers on a black background.

Amber flashing lights signal a hazard, such as an accident or poor visibility conditions like heavy fog. A red ‘X’ above a lane indicates that the lane is closed and should not be used.

Red X on motorway

Lane Markings

Motorway lane markings are designed for clarity. Broken white lines between lanes or where slip roads join the motorway suggest that you can cross these lines to overtake or exit the motorway. In contrast, a continuous solid white line, often marking the hard shoulder, should not be crossed.

Contraflow Systems

In cases of extensive roadworks, a contraflow system may be implemented, directing traffic onto the opposite side of the carriageway. 

Contraflow system on motorway

Hard Shoulder Use

On traditional motorways, the hard shoulder is for emergency use only. Stopping or driving on the hard shoulder is prohibited unless in an emergency or when directed by police. The high speed of passing traffic makes the hard shoulder a hazardous area.

If you must stop in the hard shoulder, exit your vehicle and wait at a safe distance from the road. Use the emergency phones, which are available at regular intervals along the hard shoulder, to seek assistance. It’s advisable to stop near these phones if possible.

Junctions on a Motorway

Planning for Motorway Exits

When navigating motorways, it’s crucial to be aware of the junctions you’ll need to use, whether to switch between motorways or to exit. Before embarking on your journey, familiarise yourself with the junction number you require. This preparation will help you to make a smooth and safe exit from the motorway.

Approaching the Junction

As you near your intended exit, ensure you position yourself in the left lane well in advance. This precaution helps to avoid sudden lane changes or rushed manoeuvres as you approach the junction. Overhead road signs will usually indicate the upcoming exit, making it easier for you to confirm you’re on the right track.

Recognising Countdown Markers

Countdown markers are a key feature when approaching a junction. These markers, identifiable by a blue background with white slanted rectangles, start at 300 yards from the junction.

Junction countdown markers

They provide a visual countdown: three rectangles for 300 yards, two for 200 yards, and one for 100 yards. These markers are crucial for preparing to exit and help drivers gauge the remaining distance to the junction.

Handling Missed Exits

If you happen to miss your exit, it’s important not to panic or attempt dangerous manoeuvres. Instead, continue to the next available exit and plan your route from there. Making sudden lane changes or stopping on the motorway to correct a missed exit is extremely risky.

Exiting Safely

Upon entering an exit slip road, it’s necessary to start reducing your speed significantly. After travelling at motorway speeds, you may need to apply more braking than usual.

Reducing your speed

In some cases, a deceleration lane is provided between the motorway and the junction to aid in this transition. This lane is specifically designed to help drivers safely decrease their speed before reaching the junction or entering the connecting road.

Speed on the Motorway

Understanding the Legal Speed Limit

The legal speed limit on UK motorways is set at the national speed limit, which is 70mph. It’s important to adhere to this limit, as exceeding it not only breaks the law but also significantly reduces your reaction time to unexpected hazards.

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Speed on the Motorway

Accidents at high speeds can have severe consequences, so maintaining the speed limit is crucial for the safety of all road users.

Variability in Driving Speeds

You will observe that some drivers travel either above or below the speed limit. While it’s vital to follow the speed limit, conditions such as traffic flow, weather, and individual comfort levels can lead to variations in driving speeds.

However, it’s essential to remember that consistently driving significantly below the speed limit can also pose risks, especially in heavy traffic conditions.

Temporary Speed Limits

In response to detected hazards, congestion, or roadworks, temporary speed limits may be imposed on motorways. These limits are displayed on electronic signs above each lane, usually in red or amber lights.

These temporary limits are legally enforceable and are set for safety reasons, such as reducing the risk of accidents in high-congestion areas or protecting road workers during construction activities.

Smart Motorways and Speed Management

On smart motorways, this system of temporary speed limits is particularly advanced. Smart motorways use technology to monitor traffic conditions and dynamically adjust speed limits to manage traffic flow and enhance safety.

These motorways often have features like variable speed limits and the ability to open or close lanes to traffic, providing greater flexibility and efficiency in managing road conditions.

Importance of Speed Awareness

Regardless of the type of motorway, being aware of and adhering to the speed limits is a critical aspect of safe driving. It’s also important to stay alert to changes in speed limits, whether permanent or temporary and adjust your driving accordingly. This vigilance ensures not only your safety but also the safety of other road users.

Smart Motorways

Introduction to Smart Motorways

Smart motorways are an innovative development in the UK’s road network, first introduced in 2006. These motorways use advanced technology to actively manage and control traffic flow. There has been significant investment in expanding these smart motorways across various parts of the country.

Key Features of Smart Motorways

One of the main functionalities of smart motorways is the ability to adjust speed limits in response to traffic conditions, incidents, or hazards. This proactive approach helps in reducing congestion and enhancing road safety.

Another notable feature is the ‘all lane running’ policy. Under this system, the hard shoulder is converted into an additional running lane. This strategy is aimed at easing congestion and promoting smoother traffic flow, especially during peak travel times.

Following Gantry Sign Instructions

As you travel on a smart motorway, it’s crucial to follow the instructions displayed on gantry signs. These signs, located on bridge-like structures above the road, provide real-time information about speed limits, lane closures, and other essential traffic updates.

Emergency Protocols on Smart Motorways

A common concern is the provision for emergencies, especially with the hard shoulder being used as a regular lane. To address this, smart motorways are equipped with emergency refuge areas approximately every 500 metres. These areas provide a safe space for vehicles in case of a breakdown or emergency.

Furthermore, smart motorways aim to minimise accidents through extensive signage and CCTV coverage. This constant monitoring allows for quicker detection and response to any incidents, thereby enhancing overall safety on these roads.

The Role of Technology in Traffic Management

The integration of technology in smart motorways represents a significant leap forward in traffic management.

By adapting to real-time conditions, these motorways not only improve travel times but also contribute to safer driving experiences. As they become more prevalent, understanding and adhering to their specific rules and protocols is essential for all motorists.

Motorway Driving

Motorway driving can be a rewarding and efficient way to travel across the country. With the information provided, you should feel more confident and perhaps even eager to venture onto the motorway.

The key to a pleasant motorway journey lies in adhering to the rules and maintaining constant awareness of your surroundings. By doing so, you can ensure that your motorway experience is not only safe but also enjoyable and relaxing.

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Remember, motorways are designed to be the most effective routes for long-distance travel, and with the right approach, they can significantly enhance your driving experience.

Frequently asked questions

A smart motorway is a modern adaptation of traditional motorways, incorporating advanced technology to enhance traffic flow and reduce congestion. Key to their operation are the gantries – the large signs positioned over the roadway.

These gantries display critical, real-time information including current speed limits and any lane closures. Additionally, smart motorways often employ an ‘all-lane running’ policy, where the hard shoulder is temporarily converted into an additional lane to accommodate more traffic and alleviate congestion.

This innovative approach helps to manage traffic more effectively, especially during peak times.

When driving on a motorway, especially at night, you’ll notice reflective studs of various colours on the road surface. The amber studs are strategically placed between the edge of the right-hand lane and the central reservation.

Their purpose is to aid drivers in maintaining their lane position and to prevent unintentional drifting towards the central reservation. These studs are particularly useful in low visibility conditions, providing an additional visual guide to help ensure safe motorway driving.

Smart motorways are equipped to tackle the issue of traffic bunching – where vehicles slow down and cluster together, often due to roadworks or upcoming hazards.

These motorways utilise advanced technology to monitor traffic conditions in real time. When bunching is detected, the motorway’s control system can adjust the displayed speed limit on the gantry signs.

By moderating the speed limit, smart motorways effectively manage the flow of traffic, helping to ease congestion. Additionally, they can activate the use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane.

This flexibility in lane usage plays a significant role in dispersing traffic bunches and restoring a smoother flow of vehicles, thereby enhancing the overall efficiency of the motorway.

Since 2018, the rules regarding learner drivers on motorways have changed. Learner drivers are now permitted to drive on motorways, but this is not a part of the standard driving test.

Gaining experience on the motorway can be highly beneficial for learner drivers, offering practical insight into high-speed driving conditions. However, certain conditions must be met:

  1. The learner must be in a car fitted with visible L-plates.
  2. The vehicle must have dual controls to allow the instructor to take over if necessary.
  3. The learner must be accompanied by an approved driving instructor.

It’s important to note that learners cannot drive on the motorway when accompanied by friends or family members, even if they are qualified drivers.

Also, if you are learning with a Potential Driving Instructor (PDI), motorway lessons are not permitted. These rules ensure that learners are introduced to motorway driving in a controlled and safe environment.

The left-hand lane of a motorway is your primary lane and should be used predominantly. This lane is for general travel when the road ahead is clear.

If you encounter slower-moving traffic in the left-hand lane or need to pass another vehicle, you can then move to the middle or right-hand lane to overtake.

After overtaking, it’s important to return to the left-hand lane. Consistently driving in the middle or right-hand lane when not overtaking is discouraged, as it can lead to congestion and frustration for other drivers.

This practice, often referred to as “lane hogging,” can create unnecessary traffic build-up. By using the left-hand lane as your default and only moving to other lanes for overtaking, you contribute to smoother traffic flow and increased safety on the motorway.