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Driving Safely on the Motorway

Find out how to drive safely on the motorways with this guide - it could even reduce your car insurance premiums!

Last updated: 15/11/2023 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Driving on a motorway for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s possible that you are new to driving and have therefore never driven on the motorway as driving tests do not require motorway experience. 

Worry not though, we have written a guide that will help you get your head around the rules of driving on motorways; you'll be an expert in no time!

In This Guide:

Motorway lanes

Commonly motorways will have three lanes. Lane one (left-hand lane), lane two (middle lane) and lane three (right-hand lane).

Lane one is for normal driving, whereas any lanes to the right of lane one will be for overtaking.

Certain vehicles can never use the right-hand lane. These include vehicles with trailers, vehicles over 7.5 tonnes, speed-limited goods vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes and speed-limited passenger vehicles carrying over eight passengers.

When driving at night you can use the motorway’s reflective studs to help guide you.

  • Red studs are used on the hard shoulder divisions
  • Amber studs are used on central reservation divisions
  • White studs are used for mid-lane divisions
  • Green studs are used for slip road divisions

Joining and leaving the motorway

Vehicles already on the motorway always have priority over vehicles joining the motorway, so beware of oncoming vehicles as you are joining. This priority rule does not necessarily apply to emergency services so if you are already on a motorway watch out for emergency services joining if they have their blue lights flashing.

Make sure you are aware of which exit you are using to leave the motorway. Give yourself plenty of time to take the exit by making sure you are in the left-hand lane before you exit the motorway.

Also, make sure you keep an eye on your speed limit when leaving the motorway. There will be signs informing you of the speed limit on the road you have used to exit the motorway.

Smart motorways

Some motorways are known as smart motorways.

These are motorways which use an Active Traffic Management system – a control centre that uses technology to manage traffic. They use variable speed limits that show up on signs overhead or to the side of the road.

Keep an eye out for these speed limits as they are often mandatory and if you exceed them you are likely to be caught on one of several cameras in the overhead gantries.

If the speed limit is in a red ring then it is mandatory, whereas flashing amber lights mean that the limit is advisory.

Smart motorways often allow drivers to drive in the hard shoulder either when traffic is particularly busy, when lanes are closed for roadworks or because of an accident.

It will be clearly indicated on the overhead signs. If you see a red cross in the sign above any of the lanes, then safely get out of the lane as it usually means the lane is closed.

Motorway rules and tips for safe driving

  • Make yourself aware of the speed limit and stick to it
  • If it’s your first time driving on the motorway, make sure you have a more experienced driver with you to help. You can also ask your driving instructor to give you a lesson on the motorway once you have passed your test.
  • Remember your stopping distance, keep a safe distance between you and the car in front. Often the best way to do this is to allow a two second gap between you and the car in front. If it’s wet or icy then make it a four second gap.
  • Only overtake when it’s safe and legal to do so, using the overtaking lanes.
  • Check your route before you leave or make sure your sat nav is on. You don’t want to be trying to check your route whilst driving. Also make sure your car is safe to drive before leaving, for example make sure your tyres are the right pressure and you have enough oil and petrol in your car.
  • Make sure you take breaks when driving long distances as tiredness causes many accidents.
  • If you're driving in hazardous conditions, for example there is snow and ice on the road, make sure you have the correct tyres and pay extra attention to your speed. For more info, check out our guide on driving safely in winter.
  • Practice makes perfect! The more you drive, the more confident you’ll become.

Advanced driving courses

If you want to take your driving skills to the next level, there are various courses you can take to improve your driving.

They cover things that are not taught in standard driving lessons and will help improve your confidence and knowledge on the road.

And as an added benefit, these courses may bring down your premiums on your motor insurance, as those who take advanced courses are generally considered safer drivers.

The main four advanced courses that are recommended are:

  • Pass Plus – perhaps the most well-known advanced driving course which runs throughout the UK by approved driving instructors.
  • IAM RoadSmart – a course accredited by the DVSA and facilitated by an Institute of Motor Industry expert in your vehicle.
  • RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders – this course offers a more affordable price, however it’s not widely recognised by insurance providers.
  • AA Advanced Driving – the AA offer a number of different courses that will help you improve as a driver, but they are less widely recognised by insurance providers too.

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