8 motorway tips for new drivers

It seems that motorways have a bit of a bad reputation, with many people choosing to avoid them due to nervousness, or the common misconception that they’re more dangerous than other types of road.

The RAC’s 2017 Motoring Report is based on research and in-depth interviews conducted with more than 1,700 motorists around the UK. When asked as part of the survey to rank six road types in order of which were the most dangerous to use, 25% ranked motorways as the most dangerous. However, according to the Department for Transport road casualty figures, motorways are statistically Britain’s safest roads. For example, in 2015 there were 140,000 accidents on Britain’s roads, yet just 4% of these occurred on a motorway.  

On top of this, one in five (approximately 8 million British motorists) won’t drive on motorways, listing reasons such as speed of travel, monotony, lack of confidence and the fear of being more at risk of being involved in an accident than on other roads.

For new drivers, driving on a motorway for the first time can be extremely challenging.  Although post-test motorway courses are available to new drivers, driving lessons on motorways had been prohibited until this year. From June 2018, a change in the law will allow learner drivers to take driving lessons on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales.  Learners will need to be accompanied by an approved driving instructor and drive a car fitted with dual controls.  Motorway lessons will be voluntary, and it will be up to the driving instructor to decide when the learner is competent enough.

Whether you’re new to driving, or have plenty of experience under your belt, motorway travel can be daunting, so here’s a few tips on how to prepare yourself for your motorway journey.

1. Get your car ready

Concerns about breaking down on a motorway can be reduced by doing some quick checks on your car to make sure it’s in tip top condition before setting off.  Checking tyre pressure, tread depth, engine oil, lights, brake fluid, windscreen wipers and engine coolant level take next to no time and will give you that added sense of security.

 2. Adjust your speed for slip roads

If you’re nervous, it’s tempting to slow down or even come to a standstill when attempting to join the motorway from the slip road. However, the purpose of the slip road is to allow you to match your speed to that of the vehicles travelling in the left hand lane. Keep moving, but wait for a suitable gap and then merge safely into the traffic flow. If necessary, adjust your speed before you reach the end of the acceleration lane to avoid braking and coming to a stop.

When it comes to exiting the motorway, you should move into the left-hand lane in plenty of time. Motorway exits are clearly marked usually one and a half miles before the exit. Three signs count down to the exit junction in 100 metre increments. You should start indicating at the 300 metre mark, slowing gently until you exit. Indicate in plenty of time. If you can, try to avoid breaking until you’re on the slip road. When you have left the motorway, remember to keep an eye on your speed to make sure you have slowed down enough.

3. Adhere to the two-second rule

The maximum speed limit for cars and motorcycles on a motorway is 70mph. For vehicles towing a caravan or trailer, HGVs, articulated goods vehicles, and buses or coaches over 12 metres in length, the limit is 60 mph.

Always adhere to the two-second rule. Two seconds is the minimum amount of time there should be between you and the vehicle in front. In wet weather, four seconds is the minimum recommended time separation.

4. Stick to the left lane

There is no such thing as the fast lane. Drivers should always travel in the left hand lane, (lane one) unless overtaking slower traffic, in which case lanes two and three can be used.  If you are overtaking a number of slower vehicles, it may be safer to remain in the middle lane rather than continually changing lanes. But once you’ve finished overtaking, you should always move smoothly back into lane one.

5. Use your mirrors

Keep using your mirrors so that you’re always aware of what’s going on around you. Remember, all mirrors will have blind spots, some that are big enough to prevent you from seeing a car or motorbike approaching from behind. Make sure to take a quick glance over your right shoulder to check that all is clear before you change lanes - it could be a life saver.

6. Take a break

Being tired slows down your response times, so if you’re on a long journey, always take a break at least every two hours.

7. Read up on motorway signals

The Highways Code section on the Gov.uk website is a useful source of information for new drivers. The website explains that motorway signals are used to warn of a danger ahead such as an accident, fog, or road workers on the carriageway.

Signals situated on the central reservation apply to all lanes, whereas amber flashing lights warn of a hazard ahead, or of a temporary maximum speed limit. If red lights on the overhead signals flash above your lane and a red ‘X’ is showing, you must not go beyond the signal in that lane. If red lights flash on a signal in the central reservation or at the side of the road, you must not go beyond the signal in any lane.

A white diagonal arrow overhead indicates that you should change lanes in the direction shown.

If you are unlucky enough to break down whilst on the motorway, move over to the hard shoulder and put your hazard lights are on. Make sure you get out of the car and wait behind the barrier at the roadside, away from the fast-moving cars. You can then make a call to your recovery breakdown team, or use the emergency phones (which will be clearly signposted).

8. Make sure you're covered

It is a legal requirement to have appropriate car insurance in place when driving your vehicle on a motorway, road or in a public place. The minimum legal requirement for car insurance in the UK is third party car insurance, and you could receive a fixed penalty of £300 and six penalty points on your license if you’re caught driving uninsured. If the case goes to court, this increases to an unlimited fine, as well as the possibility of losing your license and/or having your car seized, so it’s incredibly important to make sure you’re covered.

Learners and new drivers often struggle to find affordable car insurance. As the only student insurance provider recommended by NUS, Endsleigh has decades of experience in providing insurance for young motorists, offering reliable cover with an inexpensive price tag. Visit our website to find out more about our specialist student and young driver car insurance.

Read our disclaimer.

Claire Harrison

Claire Harrison is a content writer in our digital team. Outside of work, Claire writes the ‘Peggylicious’ children’s books.

Related articles

Should I take my car to university?

Cost, freedom and food shopping are just a few things you need to weigh up if you're thinking of bringing your car to uni. Here, two students give two different points of view, which may help you in making that all important decision!

The benefits of a student car share

Many universities across the country are trying to decrease their carbon footprint by encouraging students to car share or partake in ‘take-a-mate’ schemes when travelling to uni each day. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’ll work out cheaper for students looking to save a few pennies.

Buying your first car

Buying your first car is exciting, and most likely to be the first large purchase you’ll make, so it’s important you take the time to make the right choice of car.

Seven things to ask yourself when you buy car insurance

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for when buying car insurance, here are seven questions to ask yourself before you purchase a policy.

Top tips for safer driving

There’s always room for improvement when it comes to road safety. Here are our top ten tips to help you stay safe on the roads.