On the Motorway

Good motorway driving is all about observation, anticipation and being seen.  As you are travelling at higher speeds, things will change quickly and situations develop at a much faster pace.

Clean mirrors, windscreen, windows and lights are really important, before entering the motorway, and whilst journeying on it.  Make sure you use your washers, wipers and demisters regularly.

Avoid driving in other vehicle’s blind spot for any length of time, especially if they are larger vehicles.

Effective Observation

It is important to be prepared for sudden developments when travelling at high speed.  You need to know what is happening all around you, with your eyes continually moving from the road ahead to your mirrors, assessing and reassessing movement of the vehicles surrounding you.

Anticipating the motorway ahead is important, so that you can help avoid rear-end collisions if you see, for example, serious congestion ahead, by briefly using your hazard warning lights to alert other drivers behind you.

Being Seen

The higher speeds on motorways make it really important that you can be seen by other drivers earlier than on ordinary roads.

Use your headlights in poor daylight conditions, not just when it gets darker.  In fog it might be useful to use fog lights as well as headlights, where visibility drops below 100 metres/328 feet.  Remember though that you are legally required to turn them off again when visibility improves as they can dazzle other drivers, and may make it more difficult to see your brake lights.

Noise levels on motorways make it harder to hear your horn, especially on wet roads.  It is acceptable to use your headlights to flash a warning in this situation, and remember to watch out for headlights flashed in your direction too.

Keeping Your Distance

Faster traffic means that you will need more time and space for every single driving action that you do.  A guide is to leave at least one metre or yard for each mph of speed you are travelling.  Tailgating is an extremely dangerous practice, especially on motorways where it causes frequent accidents.

Use the two second rule – pick an obvious stationary reference point, and when the vehicle in front passes it, say ‘only a fool breaks the two second rule’.  If you reach the object before you finish saying the rule, you are too close to that vehicle!

Some motorways now reinforce the two second rule with chevrons painted on to the carriageway.  You should leave at least two chevrons between yourself and the vehicle in front.

Obviously, in poor or adverse weather conditions you should leave further distance, about double if slippery or wet, and up to ten times in extreme conditions!

Motorway Lanes

Being in the correct lane is really important when driving on motorways.  Normally, you should drive in the left lane, only change lanes when you need to, and never wander into other lanes.

The MSM (mirror, signal, and manoeuvre) routine should be used well in advance before you intend to move lane, starting much earlier when driving on a motorway.  The sooner you indicate the sooner other traffic will be able to anticipate your move, and the more readily the traffic pattern will alter to allow for your move.

Two-lanes –    in this situation it is normal to drive in the left hand lane, the right hand lane being used for overtaking only.  The right hand lane is not the ‘fast lane’.  Large good vehicles can use either lane.

Three- or four-lanes –     some three-lane motorways are now widening to four or more lanes because of the volume of traffic.  You should always keep in the left-hand lane unless there are a lot of slower vehicles in front of you.  Avoid repeatedly changing lanes.  Only stay in the central or outer lanes to overtake a number of slower moving vehicles, and do not stay in these lanes for longer than you need to, or if you are delaying traffic behind you.

Heavy goods vehicles, buses, coaches or any towing vehicle are not allowed to use the extreme right-hand lane of a motorway with more than two lanes, unless one or more lanes are closed.

Crawler/climbing lanes –  occasionally motorways do have a steep hill, and in such a case there will usually be an extra inside lane for slower, heavier vehicles, so that they do not impede the traffic flow.


Motorway speeds demand unhurried, gradual, controlled braking, with plenty of space maintained between you and the vehicle ahead.  Use your mirrors before you brake, and NEVER brake suddenly in fast traffic.  Driving defensively will help avoid this, in that you should always anticipate and react to situations that you see before they become a problem, slowing down in good time whilst keeping your distance.


Keeping a safe distance between you and other vehicles is vital when overtaking.  Use the MSM/PSL routine to keep yourself safe:  make full use of your mirrors so that you know your position in the traffic flow; keep your position and movements smooth and considered, not rushed; keep your speed up enough to overtake without blocking vehicles behind; look ahead to ensure that motorway is clear enough to allow you to overtake safely.

Remember to allow for the fact that vehicles in the right-hand lane are probably moving faster than you, and some will be returning to the lane you intend to use.  Good use of mirrors, and plenty of time for signal use will help other drivers anticipate your plans and adjust their manoeuvres accordingly.

Before you pull out you need to look, assess well ahead, and act decisively when you know it is safe.  Recheck your mirrors before pulling out, take a quick glance into your blind spot, and pull out smoothly into the overtaking lane.  Overtake quickly and safely, pass the vehicle and signal if necessary, before pulling back in to the left when you see that it is safe to do so.  Always leave plenty of room and look well ahead for any vehicles that may move out in to the lane you intend to rejoin.  Check that your indicator has cancelled.

You should never overtake on the left unless traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than your queue.  Never use the hard shoulder to overtake, unless instructed to do so by traffic signs or police officers.

Motorway Interchanges

You may be required to change lanes where motorways separate or join, often more than once.  There will always be clear instruction from overhead direction signs which will allow you to get in to the correct lane in plenty of time if you read the road ahead well and assess conditions.  Look out for other drivers changing lanes, and position yourself smoothly and decisively.

Hatch markings on the carriageway indicate splitter islands, and you should stay in your lane.

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