Motorway Driving

At some Driving Test Centres, you can be on a motorway a few minutes after passing your test, and it will be perfectly legal, not very sensible perhaps – but legal.

Why not sensible? Because although motorways are the safest roads of all, you have to know the rules, which are sometimes different from ordinary roads. Motorways are a bit like railways in that they only work if everything keeps moving, and in an orderly fashion. You will, I hope, have driven on some fast dual carriageways during your training, if not whilst on your driving test. Most people will have been driven, as passenger, on motorways. The example shown by your driver might not have been the correct one, so do not necessarily do the same, but make sure you yourself do it right!

Okay, down the slip road we go. You should be feeling a little apprehensive just now, after all this is the deep end, no more paddling! You will see the slip road ending with a single dotted line going diagonally across it, tapering the slip road from the right until it ends in a point on the left. This is the edge of the motorway and is a “Give Way” line, though if we do it right it is unlikely we will actually have to “Stop and Give Way”. We must though, as with all Give Way lines, realise that this may happen, and approach so we can stop if necessary.

After making sure all is clear ahead, both on the slip road and the motorway, start building the speed up to something like motorway speed, say 40-50, and begin looking early to the right. We are looking for traffic approaching in the nearside lane, sometimes called the left lane, the first lane, the driving lane or the slow lane. (Driving lane is the most correct – slow lane is the most wrong description). Sometimes the traffic will see you coming down the slip road, and if they are able, will pull out into the next lane to let you out. In any case, it is a suitable gap we are looking for, and should adjust our speed, either accelerating more, or slowing, or perhaps it will do just as it is, so we can slide into the gap just as we come to the end of the slip road. Immediately match your speed with anything in that lane so as not to cause inconvenience. Then stay there for a minute or two until you become accustomed to what is going on, and this applies always.

If you want to go faster, up to the national limit of 70, and need to overtake to do this, make absolutely sure, with your mirrors, that nothing from behind will be inconvenienced, giving yourself time to make a proper assessment of their speed, then put your right hand (offside) indicator on, check again to see its effect, if any, then gradually pull out and accelerate to overtake. If there is traffic ahead in the nearside (driving) lane that will mean you continually going in and out, then stay in the overtaking lane, because this is what you are doing, overtaking, otherwise come back into the driving lane. Don’t signal left to do this in these circumstances. Signals are supposed to help people, you will be expected to return to the nearside lane if it is clear, so a signal would be un-necessary, and unnecessary signals can confuse.

Keep a two second gap between you and traffic ahead. Two seconds? Watch for the vehicle ahead to pass some identifiable object on the side of the motorway, then say to yourself “Only a fool breaks the two second rule”. That is two seconds. You should not yourself pass the same object until then. Yes, people keep coming into the gap you leave by doing this. You must allow the gap to build up to two seconds again – sorry. Well you do want to stay alive don’t you?

The third, and sometimes fourth lanes, if anything is in them at all it will be doing the national limit or perhaps considerably more, so they are to be used with great care. Care in going into them, that is. If you are doing the national limit in the middle lane, do not assume that dot in your mirror in the third lane will not become a full sized car in two seconds flat! It might well be doing 120 mph, and they risk the loss of their licence, and maybe much more.

Know your route before you get on to the motorway. This way you will not be taken by surprise by the sign showing your turn-off appearing with you in the third lane, in heavy traffic! So take notice of the first warning, which comes one mile from the junction, and be in the first (driving) lane when the slip road comes up. Indicate left at the 300 yard sign (///), use the slip road for braking, not the motorway proper, and arrive at the junction/roundabout over/under the motorway prepared to give way if necessary.

So now you have driven on to, along and off a motorway. Congratulations! After reading the Highway Code’s advice and perhaps the DSA’s driving manual about motorways, go try it for real. A little word now about the other way of driving on motorways.

Motorways were built with a specific traffic density in mind. After this is reached, and beyond, the rules change. Many motoring rules have become law after the practice became widespread. This is because sensible drivers drive sensibly and according to the conditions. The rules sometimes catch up later! Remember the bit about the likeness to railways? This is it. The various lanes cease to be driving or overtaking lanes. They all become driving lanes, and can genuinely be described as slow, medium and fast lanes, with a continuous line of traffic in each. Now, overtaking is very difficult, and dangerous. Maintain that gap. Watch for your turn-off junction and take great care changing to the left hand lane. Do it in good time. You may have to cross two or more lanes of traffic. Any lapse of concentration can be disastrous. This is the stuff multiple pile-ups are made of. Strangely, there are rarely any accidents in these conditions. Everyone is being extremely careful. There is a condition though, that renders motorways lethal, it is –

FOG. I will never forget the sensation I had the first time I slowed to the correct speed for a bank of fog I had seen some distance ahead, and wondering if traffic behind would do the same! I vowed then that I would never again drive in fog on a motorway if avoidable. There is no way to safely drive on a motorway in fog. I don’t care what the “experts” say. Fog and motorways don’t mix. If fog is known to be about, go on ordinary roads. If you get into it unexpectedly, turn off or stop at a service area. Remember the golden rule – always drive at such a speed that you can stop in the distance you can SEE to be clear”. If only everyone kept to that!

Happy motorway driving!

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