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Tips for driving on motorways

Carlton Boyce / 28 January 2016

Become more confident when driving on motorways with our tips to help you stay safe.

Car driving in a traffic jam on a busy motorway
Motorways are by far the safest roads to drive along in the world

Driving on a motorway is probably only second to parallel parking as the driving activity that strikes the most fear into the heart of the motorist. 

Logically, this makes little sense as motorways are by far the safest roads to drive along in the world, but then phobias are rarely rational, are they?

Whether you are a first-time driver or a more experienced motorist who just doesn’t like using them, here are our tips to help banish those motorway blues!

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Get your car ready

Sustained high-speed travel will put a bit more of a strain on your car than just pottering around in it, so it makes sense to undertake a few simple checks to make sure that it’s in tip-top condition before you set out.

Joining the motorway

Your first challenge is to join the motorway, something that many get wrong despite it being a very simple three-step process:

  • Indicate right and use the entry slip-road to match your speed to that of vehicles travelling in the left-hand lane.

  • Join the main carriageway when there is a gap and cancel your indicator.

  • Get used to travelling at motorway speeds before changing lanes to overtake slower traffic if necessary.

The most common problem is that some drivers join the motorway without matching their speed to the available gaps in the traffic, forcing other vehicles to brake to let them in. 

This causes following cars and lorries to brake suddenly and the subsequent ripple effect can travel for miles, or even cause a multi-car pile-up… 

Read our tips for dealing with aggressive drivers.

Using the fast lane

There is no such thing as the fast lane. If we call the left-hand lane ‘lane 1’, then the middle one is lane 2, and the one on the far right is lane 3.

You always travel in lane 1, unless you are overtaking slower traffic, in which case you can use lanes 2 and 3 as required, moving smoothly back to lane 1 as soon as it is safe to do so. If you don’t, you’re risking a £1,000 middle-lane hog fine.

Indicate in plenty of time

Indicators are there to inform other road users what you’d like to do, not what you are actually doing. 

So indicate in plenty of time if you need to change lanes; who knows, you might be surprised how willing other drivers are to let you in!

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The Two-Second Rule

We all remember the Two-Second Rule, don’t we? 

All you have to do is to start to say “only a fool breaks the two-second rule’ when the car in front goes past a marker point, which can be as simple as a post or an imperfection in the road. 

If you pass the same point before you’ve finished saying it, then you are too close and need to drop back a little.

You will probably be surprised at how much of a gap you need to leave. You probably won’t be as surprised to find out that other drivers nip into that same gap but it’s not worth risking your life and that of your passengers by squeezing up to stop them doing it: just sit back and open the gap again and reflect on the fact that they are driving like an idiot – and you aren’t.

Six tips for driving long distances.

Calibrate your speed

It is easy to lose your sense of speed on a motorway, especially when you are leaving it. 

So when you exit on a slip-road or go into a motorway service station, you need to pay extra attention to the speedometer to double-check that you’ve slowed down enough.

Overhead gantries

The overhead gantries provide important information, so should never be ignored.

Temporary speed limits are frequently displayed, which lower the limit from 70mph to allow for incidents and traffic congestion. Compulsory limits, which you must obey, are ringed in red. Advisory limits, which you should obey but aren’t compelled to, aren’t.

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Use your mirrors

You need to stay aware of what’s happening around you, which means regularly using all three mirrors. However, your mirrors will leave blindspots that are big enough to hide a large car, much less a motorbike.

This is where the life-saver comes in. It’s a motorcycling term and is just a quick glance over your shoulder before you change lanes to double-check that nothing is lurking in your blindspot. 

The life-saver won’t just help prevent a costly accident, it could save someone’s life.

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The three-marker countdown

Three signs, counting down to the junction in 100 metre increments, mark motorway exits. 

You should start indicating at the 300-metre mark, slowing gently until you exit the motorway after the 100-metre marker.

If you do this, you can often leave your braking until you are on the slip-road itself, which helps maintain the cruising speed of other drivers on the motorway itself.

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If you breakdown

We’ve covered what to do if you breakdown on a motorway in another article, but essentially you need to get to the hard shoulder when it is safe to do so, and wait for help outside your car because the majority of accidents are caused by lorries and cars ploughing into the back of broken-down cars on the hard shoulder.

Get some tuition

If you think you might benefit from some professional tuition, then you could enlist the help of the Institute of Advanced Motorists who can help coach you through your motorway driving with a dedicated motorway module.

Have you got any tips for motorway driving? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.