A Guide to Motorway Driving

Driving on the motorway can be an extremely daunting experience, particularly for new drivers.

While many people do find motorway driving quite stressful, others say it's almost therapeutic, due to the flow, speed, and movement of traffic compared to on a normal road.

You do of course have to have your wits about you when driving at such high speeds; the smallest mistake could be fatal to yourself and other road users.

However, sometimes situations are out of your control, particularly if you have inconsiderate drivers around you.

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Middle-lane hogging, tailgating, and undertaking are three of the biggest challenges people face from others on the motorway, and they can prove extremely dangerous.

Not only could it cause a serious incident, but it's also illegal, and offenders could be hit with penalty points on their license and hefty fines.

It's easy to forget the actual rules and regulations of the motorway, particularly if you are a seasoned pro, so we've put together everything you need to know to stay on top of your game.

What is each motorway lane meant for?

There are some misconceptions about what each lane on the motorway is supposed to be used as.

Many believe the right-hand lane is the 'fast lane', while the left-hand lane is the 'slow lane'.

This is not quite true as the middle and right lanes are designed for overtaking.

The purpose of the left lane is to drive as normal and should be used when clear. The only time you really should be using the middle and right lanes is if you want to overtake the car in front of you in that lane.

Once you have overtaken, you should look to move back left when it is clear and safe to do so.

That's why middle-lane hogging in particular is frowned upon because you are causing other drivers to have to overtake on the right rather than moving left yourself. 

This is also how accidents can happen from undertaking when other drivers become frustrated and overtake on the left before cutting back into the middle.

It is true that the right-hand lane is unsuitable for particular vehicle types, including vehicles with trailers and those that are over 7.5 tonnes.

What does each motorway reflective stud mean?

This is one for the driving theory test. There are four coloured studs on each lane at nighttime to help drivers distinguish which lane is which.

Red - The hard shoulder division
Amber - Central reservation division
White - Mid-lane division
Green - Slip-road division

It might not seem important, but it's always useful to have a good understanding of this type of information just in case you ever find yourself in difficulty.


Joining and leaving the motorway

Priority should always be given to those on the motorway as you are coming onto it.

Some slip roads turn into the left-hand lane of the motorway and if that's the case, you should aim to stay in that lane and move to the right if required to overtake. 

When you know you're planning to exit the motorway, be alert of which junction it is you need to take and adjust your speed as you approach and move into the correct lane in good time so you don't obstruct other road users.

Staying safe on the motorway at night

Driving at night, particularly if you're coming off the back of a long day has its own risks associated with it. Tiredness and lack of concentration are heightened and it's critical to take a break if you feel this way.

Dimly lit stretches of motorway can also impact visibility, so always stay alert for drivers in your mirrors and ahead of you.

Poor weather conditions are not ideal at any time of day, let alone at night. If the weather is too bad and you are concerned about what you can see, then it's best to find a safe area to stop and wait until the conditions improve.

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Smart motorways

Smart motorways are designed to always try to keep the traffic flowing, even at the busiest times of the day.

They do this by opening up the hard shoulder as an extra lane which is to be used as you would the far left lane of a normal motorway.

They use overhead signs to show the speed limit in each lane. 

If the speed limit shows a red ring, then it is the mandatory speed limit - usually 70mph.

If the speed limit is surrounded by flashing amber lights then this generally is due to adverse weather conditions and you should follow the limit shown.

Sometimes the hard shoulder is shut off and you will know if it is because there will be a red cross in the sign overhead.


How do I stop being afraid of driving on the motorway?

Driving on the motorway is a cause of anxiety for many drivers and it's natural due to the high speed and switching lanes. To try to ease your worries, you should consider taking a pass plus course with a driving instructor, who essentially gives you driving lessons on the motorway until you feel comfortable driving on it by yourself.

When is the best time to drive on the motorway?

Contrary to belief, the best and safest time to drive on the motorway is between 6am and 12am. Despite there being more vehicles on the road during those hours, you will likely be more alert and less tired, enabling you to drive more safely.