Helpful Tips For Driving In Motorways

Lane Discipline

Never, no matter how many lanes, overtake on the left. This is illegal, except to avoid a crash, or if congestion causes queuing and your “inside” lane happens to move first. The fact that you may be leaving the motorway via a slip road shortly, does not give you permission to suddenly accelerate up the inside left lane before you reach the slip. You must not “buzz” a middle lane driver who is travelling freely along catching up left-lane traffic he or she intends to pass, and frighten that driver in this way. On a two-lane motorway drive in the left hand lane. You only use the right hand lane for overtaking.

On a three-lane motorway, normally drive on the left hand lane, but if there is a lot of slow-moving traffic on it, then travel in the middle lane while passing them. There is no need to “leap-frog” in and out between each left lane vehicle. That could cause unnecessary danger. However, you must return to the left lane whenever it is clear for a decent distance. And it would be sensible to move into a gap midway past a long line of left lane traffic, if necessary to let anyone consistently too close to your tail, pass through. The right lane is only for overtaking traffic in the middle lane.


A principal skidding danger on a motorway, and on all “fast” roads, is known as aquaplaning. On a wet surface, as speed rises, a wedge of water builds up underneath the front tires. Up to 70 m.p.h. on a wet surface, the effect is not usually noticeable unless tire treads are badly worn down; much over that speed, and the front wheels will, in the wet, begin to skim the water surface. When this terrifying phenomenon takes hold, steering control disappears, although the driver may not realize what has happened until too late. A gust of wind, an unexpected bump, or an attempt to steer, and the car could instantly be on its way, spinning toward death.

You will often see a fine skin of water laying across a motorway carriageway during the worst of a downpour. This happens in a few places where the water cannot run away quickly enough, off a badly drained surface. If you hit one of these “ponds” of water, even at 50-60 m.p.h., the drag created by the water can have an horrendous aquaplaning effect - particularly if only one side of the car hits it. Grip the steering tightly to keep straight. Come off your accelerator, so that your water-skiing car sinks back to the road surface, and safety, just as fast it can.

The sure way to prevent aquaplaning is:

a) Have correctly inflated tires with plenty of tread.

b) Keep below 70 m.p.h. on wet, and slow up for “ponds”.

Aquaplaning danger is not removed just because you may have a fast car. It applies equally to all


Motorway fog seems to bring out many insane drivers who drive too fast. Such “motoring mania” is believed to be partly caused by a false sense of security building up, due to drivers being deprived of any natural speed judgment mechanism; that is, through losing touch with any feeling of speed derived from seeing the surrounding countryside flash past. It would appear that people at the wheel, instead, try mistakenly to judge their speed in relation to other vehicles. Their own speed is then invariably much too fast.


The result is the wall-to-wall motorway carnage which causes so much damage, injury and grief. Check-in to your speedometer, not into the back of the car in front.

In thick fog, my advice is to get off the motorway, or you may become involved in an accident through no fault of your own. If you have to drive on, make sure your windscreen wipers and interior de-mister are on at full hot blast whenever necessary, otherwise you can find half the trouble is on your own windscreen.

In bad fog you are fortunate if you come across a police car going your way. The driver should set a safe pace based on police knowledge gained from the bitter experience of cleaning up previous tragedies. Keep well back, nevertheless. Overtake, and you are likely to be prosecuted!

Warning Signs On A Motorway

Blue flashing police lights forewarn of smashes … if they get there before you.

Various fixed carriageway lights may be lit to alert you before you reach fog, road works, or snowy or icy road conditions. You are warned to slow down and proceed with extreme caution. Temporary speed limits marked by normal signs must be obeyed.

When “up-and-down” amber lights (mounted one above the other) are flashing alternately, you should keep under 30 m.p.h. (slower if circumstances dictate), 'til you see conditions are clear. If an advisory speed is lit up on a panel type sign, stay under that limit. But do not assume the speed is safe just because it is on the panel. Go slower if necessary. Indeed, you can never assume the speed drivers in front of you may be going is necessarily safe, can you?

Breakdowns On Motorways

If you break down, get your car on to the hard shoulder. Telephones, from which you may call for help, are provided at intervals, and arrow posts about every 100 meters point the way to the nearest one on your side. (Don't even consider crossing to the other carriageway.) Take care though! Stopping on the hard shoulder except for emergency or breakdown is illegal.

Entering And Leaving A Motorway

Apart from the ends of a motorway, where there may be a roundabout, or a dual carriageway may simply become a motorway, you can only enter a motorway along a “slip road”. This is an extra lane at the entry point, running alongside the left lane of the motorway. It is provided so that you can build up speed on it. This should enable you to match your speed with vehicles on the motorway inside lane, before you move out into a safe gap in the traffic. Use right flashing indicator for merging on. Keep it on until you leave the slip road. Glance over your right shoulder, as well as watching in your mirrors, so as to see properly the traffic bearing down upon you along the motorway. Get on to the inside lane at the first safe opportunity. Try not to drive to the end of the “slip road” and then stop. If you cannot slot in behind someone, “time it”, instead, by going slowly at first, until you see a gap in the left lane traffic to accelerate and merge into. If you do ever have to stop, you then must wait for a very much larger gap. It takes a long time to accelerate from scratch to a motorway speed.

There are two traps to be wary about during the merging on process, especially on a very busy motorway.

1. Others in front of you also trying to merge on may come to an abrupt halt, either through mis-timing or because of a sheer lack of a chance to go. Beware you don't run into them because you are too busy observing behind, trying to assess your own merge.

2. A vehicle overtaking inside-lane traffic on the motorway may be moving in towards the same gap you are expecting to merge out into! So you have more than one lane to watch … (Note that, once you're on the motorway, if you wish to move out to a middle lane to overtake, you have a similar problem to watch for, with outside lanesters moving in.)

Leaving a motorway, reduce your speed and get into the inside lane in good time. Blue background count-down markers, marked III, II and I, indicate that you are getting near to your slip road. Move gradually into the slip road from the very beginning of it. Use your left flashing indicator when leaving the motorway.

These methods of entering and leaving apply both at intermediate access points and service areas. You would use similar methods before and after a breakdown stop on the hard shoulder. At the end of a motorway there are plenty of warning signs, but see Speed below.


If you are prone to drowsiness, do not take risks. Turn off at the next access point or service area, and rest. Until you reach it, open the window for bursts of fresh air, and drive extremely carefully. If you really have no time to stop for a nap then before going on any further than necessary, leave the motorway and get out and walk around, or better still, run around, to wake yourself up. Have a fizzy drink, for zest. You must be (“alive” - ) honest with yourself about whether you are safe, before taking the wheel again.


At high motorway speeds petrol burns quicker. Watch you do not run out. Service areas are some distance apart, and you pay heavily for someone to bring it to you.

At a few motorway places, such as on elevated urban ones there is no hard shoulder due to the expense or impossibility of building one. To run out of petrol in such a place is a grave hazard to other motorists. When approaching these areas instinctively double-check your fuel gauge.

Lane Changing And Overtaking

Never swing suddenly to another lane, either inwards or outwards. Watch your mirrors, signal the change briefly when safe; move over gradually. With an abrupt lurch at speed you might lose control causing an accident.

Whereas we earlier noted that a signal for moving in, after overtaking, is rarely useful, on a motorway it is an important one to give. People being passed will not otherwise know you intend to move in straightaway.

You may also have a problem, when moving back into a middle lane, in that someone on a lane inside that, is trying to move out, into the same gap! That driver should cede you priority but you can't count on it. Your signal helps him or her realize your intention. This is simply the reverse of the problem described above as trap 2, when you enter a motorway.

As lane changes require very little steering wheel movement, your flashing indicator cancelling habit must be in full play.

Although the national speed limit applies on motorways, many people break the law, and drive much faster. If you swing out suddenly, you give such a speeding over-taker no chance. That driver should not break the law and should be more careful, but in the event of an accident the main fault would be yours.

When you yourself want to overtake, start with your mirrors and then your signal, and then carry out the maneuver with the usual care. Assessing the situation in your mirrors over a long enough period to be certain what is there is of paramount importance. Mirrors' blind spots can provide no excuse for being too hasty.

Changing Direction On A Motorway

If you miss your turn-off point you have got to go on to the next.

It is illegal to turn across the central reservation. If you are alone, check your exit number before getting onto the motorway. You cannot stop on the hard shoulder to check …

Road works

Motorway road works are, unfortunately, common. Closing of a lane or even two lanes, is a serious hazard to fast-moving traffic, so you are normally given long-distance warning. The usual sign is the “lane closed” sign shown in the Highway Code, given in electric “wicket” form, with flashing yellow lights above and below to alert you. Slow and prepare to be “funneled” into the clear lane(s). The police switch on the flashing lights, but if they fail, the first hint you get may be an ordinary road works sign, or a diversion notice, so keep awake. As a rule, red and white cones mark off the way, but if you will have to change lanes, you should move across well before these are reached. Such a lane change is akin to joining the motorway from a slip road, insofar as that drivers already in a clear lane at the point the road works are reached, take priority. Well before that point, you must allow time to merge over without danger to those drivers, or you can be “pinned” to a halt by the time you reach the cones.


You must heed these warnings, sometimes exasperating if there is a long queue, and take your turn, not trying to “beat anyone to it”. Use the hard shoulder if so instructed. Contra-flow lanes, where you are diverted to the opposing carriageway (or vice versa), are obviously very dangerous. The statistics prove it, too, and that they are worst in inclement weather, so keep awake and observe all temporary signs and speed limits.


The maximum speed allowed on motorways and dual carriageways is 70 m.p.h. On certain urban motorways, a lower speed limit is in operation, shown by signs.

Whenever slowing up for your exit point, or if all traffic ahead has slowed right down or stopped, it is essential not to be fooled about how fast you are still going. Prolonged spells at speed make ordinary speeds seem like a ridiculous crawl; 60 m.p.h. feels like 20 m.p.h. Even long experienced drivers check, by looking at the speedometer, that speed is low enough for the slip road or the end of the motorway.

“Look long, live long” applies with a vengeance because of everyone's high speeds. You may not be able to pick out individual vehicles on your forward horizon, but if you see the general flow is being interrupted, ease off instantly. You can always press on when you see it's clear; but if a stoppage happens, you may well have no chance of stopping safely if you haven't taken that “instant” advice. Provided you have, then whatever level of progressive braking may be needed, should be safely within your grasp.

The “slow lorries for XX mile(s)” sign is one of the smallest, but most important, signs on the motorway. A silhouetted lorry climbing a steep slope is pictured in black on a white background inside a red triangle, with appropriate wording carried on a plate below. This sign presages deep trouble whenever the motorway is carrying thick traffic. Take notice when you see one. As soon as the slowest lorries start to crawl, the middle lane finds a sudden influx of other left lane traffic, simply wanting to maintain their speed by moving out. The effect “knocks on” in a similar way with middle lane traffic barging out into the outer lane(s). The scene is set for a completely unexpected (by all who ignored the sign - i.e. 80% of drivers) rapid tailgate build-up, and possible all-lane stoppage. That is why motorway hills, often unnoticeable to the driving-eye (i.e. without the sign), are such accident black-spots. The smashes nearly always happen at the rear, miles back from the uphill itself.

When travelling for long motorway distances at speed, keep an eye on your oil pressure gauge or warning light, as well as the coolant temperature gauge. It is wise to check the coolant level before your journey. A comparatively small fault, such as water pump failure, can cause expensive overheating damage if the car is driven far at speed before a defect is noticed.

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