Motorway driving

The UK motorway system has expanded and evolved over the past 50 years and is now a very different place from the early motorways on the 1960s and 1970s. Changes have included variable speed limits, a move away from the standard two or three lane format, and increased use of complex junctions and filter lane systems. To ease congestion, some stretches of the major motorways have been widened to four or even five lanes, making drivers think more carefully about their lane choices. There has also been a push to combat ‘middle-lane hogging’, which is now an offence. Traffic patrols target those who obstruct the flow of traffic by occupying an inappropriate lane.

Accident records show that, statistically, motorways are the safest roads in the UK. However, motorways incidents often involve several fast-moving vehicles and consequently result in more serious injuries and damage than collisions on other roads.

There’s often little room for error when driving fast on a motorway. The generally higher speeds and the volume of traffic mean that conditions can change much more quickly on motorways than on other roads. Because of this you need to be

  • totally alert
  • physically fit
  • concentrating fully
  • assessing well ahead.

If you aren’t, you may fail to react quickly enough to any sudden change in traffic conditions.



Don’t drive if you’re

  • tired
  • feeling ill
  • taking medicines that could affect your driving
  • unable to concentrate for any reason.

Any of these factors could affect your reactions, especially in an emergency.

Rest periods

You must take rest periods, on long journeys, try to plan them to coincide with a stop at a motorway service area. This is especially important at night, when a long journey can make you more tired than usual.

If you eat a large meal immediately before driving, the combined effects of a warm vehicle, the constant drone of the engine and long, boring stretches of road especially at night, can soon cause the onset of drowsiness. Falling asleep at the wheel can happen so easily; don’t let it happen to you.

If you start to feel even slightly tired, open the windows, turn the heating down and get off the motorway at the next junction.

When you reach a service area have a hot drink, wash your face (to refresh yourself) and walk round the in the fresh air before driving on.

Choosing the right lane

Early motorway guidance referred to the ‘slow lane’, ‘middle lane’ and ‘fast lane’, which encouraged drivers to choose speeds they thought were appropriate for each lane. Unsurprisingly, one person’s idea of ‘fast’ was likely to differ from another person’s. The result was that some drivers chose to sit in the ‘fast lane’ while a growing tailback formed behind them, and other drivers felt provoked to overtake on the inside.

Today, the lanes are referred to as ‘lane 1’, ‘lane 2’, and ‘lane 3’ – and lanes 2 and 3 are described as overtaking lanes – to reinforce the rule that you should stay in the left-hand lane (lane 1) unless you’re overtaking a slower vehicle.


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