Taking your car on the motorway for the first time can be nerve-wracking if you’re not prepared. So we’ve put our heads together and come up with some handy tips to make sure your first time goes without a hitch.
Going on longer journeys and using the motorways is a rite of passage, and we all have to do it at some point, but don’t worry, it’s easy when you know what you’re doing—and we’ve got everything covered here.
Take some extra driving lessons
Once you’ve passed your test, you can still benefit from some advanced training and most instructors will be happy to teach you the ins and outs of motorway driving.
Take an experienced passenger
If you don’t want to pay for extra lessons, the next best thing is to take an experienced older driver with you. A parent or relative with plenty of driving experience is probably your best bet. It’s probably not a good idea to take a car full of your friends on your first couple of motorway journeys as they could end up distracting you.
You should also take a look at the Highway Code and familiarise yourself with the rules, regulations and signs of the motorway.
Joining the motorway
After you've planned your route, the first step to driving on the motorway is joining it. This requires you to merge with the other traffic and is arguably the most daunting thing about motorway driving. But don’t let that put you off! To safely join the motorway you need to match your speed to the other cars and once you’ve done it a few times it will seem like second nature. Accelerate along the slip road until you are going at the same speed as the traffic on the motorway, then pull into an appropriate gap. You’ll find that the other drivers will usually try to create some space for you but don’t expect this to always be the case.
Mirror; Signal; Manoeuvre
No doubt you’ve had the mirror, signal, manoeuvre mantra drummed into you as you were learning, so it should come as no surprise how important it is to remember when you’re joining, driving on or exiting the motorway. It’s a good idea to ensure your mirrors are clean and in the correct position before each journey. You should also be aware of any blind spots.
Keep your distance
When you’re on the motorway, it’s important that you keep enough distance between you and the car in front. The two-second rule is a useful way to gauge a safe stopping distance. Pick a fixed point at the side of the road and start counting when the car in front passes it. If you pass the point before you’ve counted two seconds, you are too close to the next car. Keeping your distance from larger vehicles is essential as they have much bigger blind spots than cars, so they may not be able to see you when they are changing lanes.
Stick to speed limit
The national speed limit on the motorway is 70 miles per hour, and while you may see cars clearly ignoring this, it’s not a good idea to copy them as it increases the risk of fatal accidents and is illegal. Where there are road works, or other hazards such as adverse weather conditions, you may be required to go slower than 70mph. So keep your eye out for signs advising you of any changes.
When you’re on the motorway, you should stick to the left-hand lane. However, there will be times when you need to pass slower moving traffic. When you are about to overtake, don’t forget: mirror; signal; manoeuvre. And, remember, you shouldn’t overtake until you are sure it is safe to do so.
Take a break if you’re tired
Motorway driving is demanding. You need to be concentrating all the time, so it’s only natural for longer journeys to have an impact on your alertness. The best way to deal with fatigue is to stop at a service station and have a rest. It can also help to grab a coffee or an energy drink and stretch your legs for a bit.
In the event of a breakdown
Breaking down on the motorway is inconvenient and dangerous. Fortunately, it's rare, but it could happen at some point, so it’s best to be prepared. If you break down get to the hard shoulder and exit the vehicle. The biggest danger is being hit by another car, so it’s safer to wait on the verge. Use your hazard lights to warn the other cars and once you’re out of your car you can call for help either from your mobile or from an emergency phone at the side of the road. There are usually arrows on the road pointing in the direction of the nearest emergency phone.
Exiting the Motorway
If you’ve planned your journey properly, you’ll know which junction you want to exit from. When you see the signs for your exit, move to the left lane (if you're not already there). As you approach the junction you’ll see the countdown markers. The marker with three stripes means you’re 300 yards away from your exit. This is where you should use your indicator to show the other drivers you intend to exit but don’t slow down until you’ve left the motorway as this will disrupt the flow of traffic.