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07.11.2015 How to drive on the motorway

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The first time you drive on a motorway can be a daunting experience. You won’t have done any motorway driving before you pass your test and some drivers can be intimidated by the high speeds involved.

Luckily, although motorway driving is a skill which requires planning, it’s actually incredibly easy – much, much easier, for example, than driving around town at 30mph.

The Highways Agency’s Stuart Thompson explains: “Good planning can make the difference between a comfortable journey and a spoilt getaway, but making sure your vehicle is in good order is also vital as motorways are not places you want to break down. You’re at your most vulnerable when you’re on the hard shoulder, so keep your car well maintained to avoid breaking down in the first place.”

So, what should you look out for on the motorway?

Getting on

The hardest part of motorway driving is getting on in the first place. When you join a motorway, you should build up your speed on the slip road, indicate right to join the motorway and check for a gap in the traffic to merge into. You should check your blind spot as well as your mirrors while you do this.

There are sometimes two lanes on a slip road, one on the left for slower moving traffic, which joins further along the motorway, and a right-hand one for faster traffic.

Once you’re on

Once you’re on the motorway, remember your lane discipline. You should always be in the left-hand lane unless you’re overtaking another vehicle. People who sit in the middle lane constantly are – as you’ll soon find out – some of the most irritating drivers on the road. Don’t be one of them. 

Also, watch out for lorries and buses. Most lorries are limited to 56mph and most coaches 62mph, but it takes them longer to stop than a car. Keep your eyes peeled for foreign lorries too, as the drivers sit on the opposite side of the cab and might not see you.

The key to good motorway driving is anticipation. Help other drivers join the motorway by joining the middle lane at junctions, and if you’re in the middle lane approaching a lorry but there’s a car in front of you which you suspect wants to overtake as well, move into the outside lane to let it overtake.

You should also keep a two-second gap between you and the car in front. Stuart Thompson explains: “Being too close to the vehicle in front is a major factor in approximately a third of all collisions on our roads.

“Many dangerous incidents on the motorways could be avoided if drivers simply kept at least two seconds away from the car in front. Tailgaters put their own lives at risk by driving too close, and the lives of other road users as well.” Make sure to increase your stopping distance if the road is wet or icy, or if visibility is poor.

Getting off

When you want to get off, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time. Junctions have a 1 mile warning, a half-a-mile warning and then three markers at 300, 200 and 100 yards from the exit.

Indicate left to signal that you want to leave the motorway and merge onto the slip road. Keep an eye on your speed too – you’ll be used to driving at 70mph and won’t appreciate just how much you’ve got to slow down.

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