Not everyone feels comfortable driving on motorways. In fact, a study we conducted back in 2009 revealed that 1 in 7 motorists say they lack the vital skills needed for motorway driving, and some drivers fear motorways so much they spend decades avoiding motorway driving.
Learner drivers (or existing drivers looking for a confidence boost) can now take motorway driving lessons with an approved driving instructor in a dual-controlled car. But if you're feeling a little anxious about the speed and fast-paced nature of motorway driving, check out our handy tips.
Getting to grips with a fear of motorways
The first step to overcoming your fear of motorway driving is realising it's okay to feel this way. Compared to the slower speeds of most A and B roads, motorways can seem intimidating. Everyone's moving faster and there doesn't seem to be much time to make decisions.
However, the increased speed of motorway travel doesn't necessarily make it more dangerous. Risky behaviours which could lead to accidents - such as tailgating and speeding - can easily be avoided.
How to drive on motorways
It's important to be aware of the speed traffic is moving at, and the space between all of the vehicles, as this helps the traffic flow. Try to avoid sudden braking - this will put you, and the other drivers around you, at risk.
You can keep yourself safe on the motorway by remembering these rules:
- Keep left unless overtaking and return to the left-hand lane after overtaking.
- Leave plenty of space between you and the other cars around you - don't forget that stopping distances will increase if the weather's bad.
- Indicate before you change lanes and give other drivers time to see what you're doing.
- Control your speed and keep an eye out for variable speed limits on signs or gantries.
- Check your mirrors more often - at high speeds, things can change very quickly.
- Take extra care around lorries and other large vehicles. If you can’t see the driver or their mirrors, they probably can’t see you.
- Anticipate what's coming next by scanning the road ahead visually.
- Only use the hard shoulder for emergencies.
- Take regular breaks so you don't drive tired.
How to drive on smart motorways
A growing proportion of the motorway network is being converted to ‘smart’ motorways, with variable speed limits and lane control by overhead gantries. The basics of using these stay the same. As long as you keep left (except when overtaking) and pay attention to variable signs, driving on a smart motorway shouldn't be any more complicated than a regular one.
Most smart motorways will also have either a hard shoulder that can be opened as a running lane at peak times, or no hard shoulder at all, but emergency areas spaced at regular intervals.
Tips for driving on smart motorways:
- They have variable speed limits to maintain traffic flow when volumes are high, or for safety reasons.
- Emergency refuge areas are located every 2.5km.
- Look out for the red ‘X’ sign, meaning a lane is closed due to an accident or obstruction.
- A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder. Don't drive on it unless directed to.
- If your vehicle is having problems, exit the smart motorway as soon as possible.
How to join using a motorway slip road
Motorway slip roads are designed to allow easy entrance into the traffic.
- Use the slip road to gradually build up your speed until it matches the traffic on the motorway.
- Look for a suitable gap in the left-hand lane.
- Check your mirrors and signal before you join the motorway.
It's important to remember that traffic on the motorway has priority, so don't force your way in. And avoid stopping at the end of the slip road unless you’re queuing to join slow-moving traffic.
How to overtake
Overtaking on a motorway is the same as overtaking on dual carriageways and other multi-lane roads.
- Never overtake on the left, unless traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than the queue you're in.
- Use the mirror, signal, manoeuvre (MSM) routine and remember that for overtaking - you need to do it twice.
How to leave a motorway
- Give yourself plenty of time to move over to the left lane.
- If you've been driving at motorway speeds, leaving the motorway will likely feel slower than normal. Check your speedometer and make sure you adjust your speed for the road ahead of you.
Can you stop on a motorway?
The simple answer is no, unless you absolutely have to in an emergency. For more details, see Highway Code (rule 270).
Motorway driving lessons
Learner drivers are now able to experience motorway driving before they take their practical driving test.
Motorway lessons with an instructor will give you the necessary skills to drive on motorways with confidence. Advantages include:
- Developing a broader range of experience.
- Learning how to safely enter and exit motorways.
- Getting comfortable with driving at higher speeds.
- Practicing lane changing and overtaking.
If you're not a new driver, you can still take qualified driver lessons to build your knowledge.
If you're still feeling anxious about motorways
There are a few other things you can try to calm yourself down before your trip:
- Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to plan your route and don't forget to factor in rest breaks.
- Try to avoid too many stimulants - like caffeine - before the drive.
- Turn down your music and switch your phone off to minimise distractions.
- If you can, travel when the motorway will be quieter, such as the middle of the day.
Additionally, the NHS have compiled a list of breathing exercises which you might find helpful before a long drive.