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Motorways

Chapter 31

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Be careful when driving on motorways as speeds are high, traffic may be heavy, and drivers may be stressed.

Motorways are off-limits for certain types of vehicles, including motorcycles under 50cc, powered wheelchairs. mobility scooters and certain slow-moving vehicles.

How to join a motorway

lesson imageFollow this sign to enter the M1 Highway in direction 'Nottingham'

When you join the motorway you will normally approach it from a road on the left (a slip road) or from an adjoining motorway. You should:

  • give priority to traffic already on the motorway
  • check the traffic on the motorway and match your speed to fit safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane
  • not cross solid white lines that separate lanes or use the hard shoulder
  • stay on the slip road if it continues as an extra lane on the motorway
  • remain in the left-hand lane long enough to adjust to the speed of traffic before considering overtaking.

Make sure that you do not get stuck at the end of the slip road as both you and drivers behind you will be forced to enter at a much lower speed than the motorway traffic.

How to drive on the motorway

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When you can see well ahead and the road conditions are good, you should:

  • drive at a steady cruising speed which you and your vehicle can handle safely and is within the speed limit
  • keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and increase the gap on wet or icy roads, or in fog

You MUST NOT reverse, cross the central reservation, or drive against the traffic flow. If you have missed your exit, or have taken the wrong route, carry on to the next exit.

Drive in the left-hand lane

lesson imageKeep left unless overtaking a slower-moving vehicle (e.g. the orange car towing a trailer)

You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear.

  • If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past. 
  • Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking. 
  • You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform or by signs.

Do not overtake on the left or move to a lane on your left to overtake. In congested conditions, where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds, traffic in left-hand lanes may sometimes be moving faster than traffic to the right. In these conditions you may keep up with the traffic in your lane even if this means passing traffic in the lane to your right.

The right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes MUST NOT be used (except in prescribed circumstances) by passenger vehicles.

General motorway tips

General tips for overtaking and changing lanes:

  • Signal an adequate time in advance before you change lanes or overtake, and give way to vehicles already in the lane. 
  • Check your mirrors and the blind spot.
  • If safe, change lanes or adjust your speed so that vehicles from an on-ramp can enter the motorway traffic safely.
  • Do not weave in and out of lanes to overtake.

lesson imageIf an emergency, stop in the hard shoulder with your hazard lights activated

You MUST NOT stop on the carriageway, hard shoulder, slip road, central reservation or verge except in an emergency, or when told to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform, an emergency sign or by flashing red light signals.

How to exit a motorway

lesson imagePrepare ahead of time so you can exit smoothly

  • watch for the signs letting you know you are getting near your exit
  • move into the left-hand lane well before reaching your exit
  • signal left in good time and reduce your speed on the slip road as necessary.

Be aware that travelling at high speeds can make it difficult to judge your speed once you slow down or move off the motorway. You will most likely think that you are travelling much slower than you actually are.