Motorway Driving – Everything You Need To Know

A recent survey from UK law firm DPP Law on driving offences found that 48% of drivers broke the motorway speed limit. However, it’s not just speeding alone which is the issue.

Other research has suggested that nearly a quarter of Brits are nervous while driving on motorways.

Lack of experience, not knowing the laws that govern these high-speed roads and genuine unawareness of how to drive on a motorway could be playing a part. Tend to find yourself avoiding highways at all cost? Read on to discover how you can gain confidence driving on the motorway and reduce your journey times drastically.

Signs on a motorway

There are numerous signs that you need to be aware of while you’re driving on a motorway, most of which will be directional. However, the introduction of smart motorways has meant that there is now digital signage in order to manage traffic and keep drivers safe at all times.

Blue and brown direction and information signs

The most frequent signs you’ll need to be aware of when you’re on the motorway.

Most of the time they are rectangular and will make you aware of:

  • Upcoming motorway services with how far you are away and what is there (e.g. restaurants, cafes, petrol station, etc.)
  • Approaching junctions with the location, junction number and how far you are from it in miles.
  • A split in the motorway where the left lane leads to a different destination. This will be shown above the lanes with downward-pointing arrows, meaning ‘get in lane’.
  • SOS emergency areas which have a free emergency telephone that connects you directly to the police, who will then put you through to the Highways Agency Regional Control Centre.
  • For directions to tourist attractions there will be a brown background – these will have their own sign or be housed within larger junction signs, depending on their location.

Smart motorway signs

smart motorway signs

Electronic message signs will be used on these sections of motorway, which are in place to cope with higher volumes of traffic.

You will often be able to identify a smart motorway by signs such as:

  • Hard shoulder being used as an additional lane.
  • Variable speed limits (displayed above all lanes).
  • CCTV cameras.

Overhead gantries will display symbols and temporary speeds which you must adhere to. Not doing so would be very dangerous and could lead to a fine or prosecution.

These signs include:

  • A red X – you must exit the lane as soon as possible.
  • Speed limit – this will vary as you carry on driving, but can often be 50 or 60mph. Highways England confirmed there’s a slight lag between a temporary speed limit being displayed and enforced by the cameras to allow drivers time to steadily slow to the new speed limit without slamming on their brakes.

Top 5 tips for motorway driving

It’s not just the law you need to consider when it comes to driving on the motorway.

There are many good practices you can adhere to when you’re joining these high-speed roads, cruising on them and exiting to your destination.

Here are our top 5 tips for driving on the motorway.

1. Build up speed on the slip road

Joining a motorway

When you turn onto a slip road, it’s important that you use this stretch to build up to a safe speed that matches the other cars there.

There may be times where it’s gridlock traffic due to an accident or other obstruction which results in calming measures to be put in place. In this instance, you shouldn’t build up speed, but instead keep an appropriate pace until a car on the inside lane allows you to pull in.

Look ahead the minute you turn onto the slip road to gauge whether you can add acceleration or not. Regardless of the circumstances, you should always remember to check mirrors and your blind-spot to ensure it’s clear before indicating and pulling in.

2. Check your mirrors regularly

rear view mirror checks

Motorways, and any road for that matter, require your full concentration when you’re driving on them. Not only is what’s in front of you important, but also the other vehicles around you.

Even if you’re not changing lanes, regular rear-view and side door mirror checks will ensure you always know what’s going on. As such, you will be prepared to act in ample time and safely if you notice a hazard up ahead.

We would recommend doing these precautionary checks every 2-3 minutes, especially given that the distance you cover in this time will be around 3.5 miles at speeds of 70mph.

3. Stopping distance times

Keeping this distance at all times on the motorway isn’t practical, nor is it necessary in order to keep completely safe.

As such, it’s good practice to stick to the following stopping distance times:

  • Dry – two seconds or more.
  • Rainy – double this gap between you and the car in front, so allowing for at least four seconds.the ‘two second’ rule for measuring a safe gap from the car in front was created. In wet conditions and other adverse weather, this should be doubled to four seconds.
  • Icy – leave an even bigger gap if there’s ice on the road, even as much as 10 seconds is generally advised.
  • Snow – just like icy weather, snow makes your car’s grip on the road very difficult. Allowing at least 10 seconds is a safe option.

You may be wondering how you can judge this while you’re on the move. The easiest way to do so is by using static objects or markers as a reference point, such as motorway exits, chevrons on the road or lampposts. To do this, count to two (or four seconds depending on the weather) in your head. When the car in front reaches the point. If you reach there before you’ve counted, ease off the pedals until you get a safe distance.

4. Maintain lane discipline

Motorway lanes

Knowing when to change lanes on a motorway is essential for your safety, as well as those in your car and those also sharing it.

While laws have been put in place to tackle frustrating habits such as middle lane hogging, this ultimately won’t nip the problem in the bud.

The problem lies within drivers’ understanding of how to use lanes properly. So, whether there are three or more lanes, you should always be on the inside (otherwise known as the ‘left-hand lane’) lane, unless you’re overtaking.

Sticking to this rule allows you to progress at a safe speed without posing a danger to drivers around you. Even if you overtake a car using the middle lane and see a clear stretch of road in all lanes ahead, be sure to pull back into the inside lane once you’ve safely passed the vehicle.

Not only will this prevent you facing a potential £100 fine, but it allows the cars around you to overtake in a safe manner if they need to.

5. Rest if you’re feeling tired

“Tiredness kills” signs can be seen on most major motorways, and there’s a good reason for them too.

Driving on these single stretches of road for prolonged periods of time is monotonous. As mentioned before, the concentration needed to handle a car at these speeds is also draining for most.

Motorway services are a great way to break up your journey, allowing you to recharge your batteries by having some food, a drink, or even a sleep if you need. On average, 15 miles tends to be the distance which separates each service.

Look out for these signs of fatigue to help you decide whether you should take a break:

  • Yawning regularly.
  • Issues concentrating on driving.
  • Fluctuating driving speeds.
  • Poor gear changes.
  • Heavy and/or sore eyes.

Motorway rules

Whether you have questions about other UK road law or leasing in general, you can find out everything you need to know by visiting our handy guides page.

Ready to get the best deals on your car?

Compare leasing deals now

Get Started Now