New driver tips: motorway driving best practice

Driving on the motorway can be a bit of a daunting prospect at the best of times, even more so if you’ve just passed your test and you’re heading out in a new car. Though it’s normal to be nervous, much of the fear new drivers feel when faced with motorway driving is just fear of the unknown, so as part of our series of tips for new drivers, we’ve devised some top tips to help you to be a more confident driver and enjoy motorway driving – yes, really!

Your first motorway experience

Just passed your driving test? It’s normal to worry about driving alone on the motorway for the first time. Things can happen fast on motorways and it’s important to keep your wits about you. If you’re a new driver, staying in the first lane until you adjust to the speed is a good idea, and remember you need to check your mirrors much more often than on normal roads.

The good news is that motorways are safer than regular roads, and even dual carriageways, as there are no pedestrians, cyclists, learner drivers, mopeds or great big tractors to worry about! Long, straight stretches of road with no roundabouts, sharp bends or turns to worry about can actually make motorway driving a relaxing experience, once you feel confident.

Joining the motorway

Your aim is to get into the existing flow of traffic without disrupting it, and you’ll enter the motorway from a slip road, leading to an acceleration lane. Match your vehicle’s speed to the traffic in the first lane and always remember – ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ before pulling out. Hopefully, traffic will move to the other lane, making space for you to pull out (although this isn’t always possible when it’s very busy). You should ensure you check over your shoulder as you pull out and don’t rely solely on your mirrors.

Watch the speed limit

Nobody wants a speeding ticket so it pays to watch your speed when you’re driving on the motorway! The speed limit for car drivers is 70mph, unless signs state otherwise. If there are roadworks, you may see signs indicating a lower speed, and if it’s raining, snowing or there are other adverse weather conditions, you’ll want to reduce your speed accordingly. Driving too fast is the number one cause of accidents on motorways, so be aware of your speed at all times.

It’s OK to drive slower than 70mph if you’re nervous, but though there’s no minimum speed limit on the UK motorways, be aware that if you’re driving below about 50mph, you may yourself become a hazard to other drivers, and increase your risk of being involved in an accident – and if you’re deemed to be causing a hazard by driving too slow, you can be cautioned or fined.

Overtake correctly

Driving in the left-hand lane is good practice on motorways, unless you’re overtaking slow-moving traffic such as vans and lorries. Don’t cruise in the middle or outside lanes of the motorway and always check your mirrors before changing lane. Keep an eye out for large vehicles changing lanes as their blind spot is much greater – keep your distance!

Remember the two-second rule

Cars are travelling at much higher speeds on the motorways, so greater stopping distances are needed to avoid crashes. To ensure there’s plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front, remember the two-second rule. Choose a fixed point up ahead (this could be a bridge, lamppost or sign). When the vehicle in front passes this fixed point, start to count two seconds out loud. As you finish speaking, your vehicle should just be reaching that point. Don’t forget that stopping distances will be increased when the roads are wet or icy.

Take regular breaks

Long journeys can leave you feeling tired, which can be especially dangerous on a long, straight, quiet stretch of motorway. Tiredness slows your response times, increasing your risk of an accident, so it’s important to take regular breaks on longer journeys. It’s recommended to take a 15 minute break at least every 2 hours. If you’re driving after dark, make sure you use your lights properly and use the cats’ eyes on the motorway for guidance:

• Red studs – hard shoulder
• Amber studs – central reservation
• Green studs – entry and exit sliproads

Timing your exit

Planning your route in advance (without totally relying on your sat-nav) means you know which junction you’ll be exiting at, so keep an eye out for junction signs on your journey. When you get close to your exit, move into the first lane – do not wait until the final sign comes into view to perform a death-defying lane change at high speed! When you’re 300 yards from the junction, you’ll see the start of the 3-line countdown markers, which are repeated again at 200 yards and 100 yards. You should start signalling left at the 300 yard marker, indicating your intention to exit the motorway at the junction, but don’t slow down until you have turned off the motorway into the deceleration lane.

Help, emergency!

Motorway breakdowns are the stuff of nightmares for many drivers – particularly new drivers who haven’t got much experience of motorway driving. But if your car gets into trouble, don’t panic – here’s what to do:

• Only stop on the hard shoulder in a genuine emergency, and if you can, try to stop near an orange emergency telephone
• Turn your hazard lights on and your engine off
• The AA recommends: if you have reflective jackets in the vehicle, wear them, but do not use a warning triangle on the hard shoulder
• Ensure that any passengers exit the vehicle (on the side furthest from the road) and wait on the verge
• Use the orange emergency phone to call for help – you can use your mobile phone, but the emergency phones make it easier to pinpoint your location
• If you are able to wait and exit the motorway safely at the next junction, to find a safe place to stop, you should do so

Congratulations – you’ve safely driven your first motorway journey, you’re doing great. The more you practice motorway driving, the more confident you’ll become – soon, it will be second nature to you. Happy cruising!