In this section, we examine the rules governing motorway use and discuss safe and best practice, including:
In many ways, the rigid rules of the motorway actually make it a lot safer for the motorists who use it. Ultimately, however, the speed involved makes driving there unsafe for a number of vehicles, thus forcing the government to legislate against their use. Vehicles prohibited from using motorways include:
Notable groups that are allowed on the motorway include anyone who has recently passed their test and drivers of lower-powered city cars – two groups that are often on the receiving end of criticism from other road users.
Motorways are designed to aid traffic joining to merge seamlessly into the traffic already on the road, but smooth operation is still dependent on your following the best practice in Highway Code section 259. Remember that:
Remember to look over your right shoulder to check traffic – your mirrors alone will not be sufficient.
Motorway driving is obviously quite different to driving on a typical road. Be sure that you know:
In addition to the above tips, which are elaborated upon in depth below, remember these general bits of best practice:
Motorway speed limits are relatively straightforward: the upper limit is 70mph (112kph) for all vehicles. However, the following vehicles must drive at 60mph (96kph):
This all goes out of the window, of course, if motorway signals and variable signs indicate a lower speed limit. These limits are usually deployed to ensure safe transit in adverse weather conditions, in the event of an accident or when road works are being carried out.
The Highway Code (section 267) states that you should “overtake only on the right” and only when “you are sure it is safe and legal to do so”. However, undertaking on the motorway is accepted to be a reality of traffic’s natural ebb-and-flow: it would be dangerous to slow down in a left-hand lane in order to stay behind a congested right hand lane. Despite this, there is no good reason to undertake when overtaking is perfectly safe and the proper course of action. When overtaking you should:
You should never use the hard shoulder to overtake, though areas with Active Traffic Management Schemes will sometimes permit travel on the hard shoulder (by showing a speed limit above it).
The Highway Code (sections 264 to 265) clearly sets out the rules surrounding lane discipline:
Recent changes to the law allow for on the spot fines for bad lane discipline, along with other common driving offences that are often kept out of the courts due to the large amount of bureaucracy involved.
Slow or speed-restricted vehicles must remain in the left-hand lane for the duration of their journey. Additionally, the following vehicles are prohibited from travelling in the right-hand lane on motorways with three or more lanes:
In the vast majority of scenarios, you will be leaving the motorway via a left-hand slip road; exceptions to this rule will be clearly and repeatedly indicated on signs and signals. The process of leaving the motorway is simple enough:
The above best practice broadly applies to getting in lane when motorways split at interchanges – simply replace the ‘left lane’ with ‘your intended lane’, which will be indicated by overhead signals and signage.
The hard shoulder is only for emergency use and should never be considered a safe space to stop – it has been suggested that since 2000, 800 people a year are killed or injured on the hard shoulder. The limited reasons for using the hard shoulder are:
Nonetheless, people frequently risk their lives by parking on the hard shoulder for trivial reasons, including: reading maps, making mobile phone calls and going to the toilet. Even if your car has a minor fault that may become serious, it is still safest to leave the motorway at the next exit. If caught stopping on the hard shoulder without justifiable reason, you can receive an on the spot fine of £50 – particularly dangerous use could involve points on your licence.
To stop on the hard shoulder: