30 June 2016

Motorway driving tips for young and newly-qualified drivers

College and university holidays along with time off work, slightly better weather and lighter mornings and evenings make the summer months ideal for going on long road trips, perhaps to visit friends you’ve not seen in ages or to go camping or glamping at one of the UK’s many music festivals.

Chances are that for at least some of the distance you’ll need to take the motorway – something that not all young or newly qualified drivers are keen on, the volume of traffic and the speeds involved making some such drivers a little nervous. Our motorway driving tips can help ease the strain. Who knows, you might even come back from your jollies agreeing that motorway driving can actually be more enjoyable than town driving.

Plan your route: panicking because of uncertainty over which motorway and junction number(s) to take and in which direction isn’t something you want to experience on the move, so consult an old-fashioned map before setting off, not relying on sat nav or gut instinct.

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Slip-roads: these are the short stretches of road that provide access to and an exit from motorways. The key is to match your speed with the traffic in lane one (the ‘slow lane’) so that once you’ve indicated in advance, you can slip into the flow of vehicles. It’s natural to be little nervous when driving down a slip road but vehicles in lane one usually adjust their speed or pull into the middle lane to let new vehicles join the motorway. In very rare cases, you may need to slow down and stop, which is safer than colliding with another vehicle.

Keep to the left: it’s now actually illegal to hog the middle lane, or to drive needlessly in the outside (‘fast’) lane, but in any case it’s safer to keep in the left lane. Only use the middle and outside lanes when overtaking and always use your indicators to give other drivers advance warning of what you want to do. Unless you get stuck behind a string of lorries, you’ll likely find that many vehicles in the inside lane travel around the 70mph speed limit anyway.

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Steer smoothly: when you’re travelling at speed, it’s not a good idea to steer sharply as it could end up in your car going on a roll, so turn the wheel gradually when you’re changing lane or travelling around a sharp motorway bend.

Easy on the brakes: professional drivers are taught to brake as little as possible, especially when motorway driving. One of the reasons is that it’s more fuel efficient and economical, leaving you with more money to spend on fun stuff. It’ll also stop your car skidding if the surface is wet or icy.

Chill out: if someone steams up behind you, aggressively trying to get you to speed up, resist the urge to become angry and just pull over into the middle or inside lane as soon as you safely can, to let them past. On the flip side, if you’re in a rush and someone in front is dawdling, avoid road rage and keep your distance – for all you know, there may be a problem with their car or they might brake suddenly.

Blind spot: when merging onto a motorway or changing lanes, quickly glance over the appropriate shoulder to check that a vehicle isn’t in your car’s blind spot. Turning your head isn’t advisable if you’re very close to a vehicle in front, though.

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Keep your distance: travelling at speeds of up to 70mph with loads of other vehicles around you means that anything can happen at any time, such as a vehicle in front suddenly braking or even something extreme like a load falling off a lorry. Follow the 2-second rule, counting either two seconds or two chevrons (the white arrows on the road) between you and the vehicle in front. Stay even further back when it’s wet, icy or foggy, as stopping distances increase by up to ten times.

Lorries: remember that heavy goods vehicles can’t accelerate as quickly as cars because of the laws of physics, and their top speed is often limited by human laws. If you see a convoy of lorries coming up, try to plan ahead and overtake, but if you do get stuck in a lorry sandwich, don’t panic and wait until one of them moves over or until you can safely pull out.

Indicating: it’s understandable for young or newly-qualified drivers to feel a rush of blood when they see a vehicle indicating to pull out into their lane, but if this happens to you, remember than indicating is only a sign of intention. Many vehicles indicate well in advance of actually pulling out. However, keep your wits about you just in case someone does indicate and pull out at the same time.

Hazard lights: if you can see that traffic up ahead has come to a standstill, an accident has occurred or you’ve developed a problem with your car, it’s time to put your hazard lights on to warn other drivers behind you.

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Breaking down: pull over to the hard shoulder as soon as you can safely do so, parking as close to the grass embankment as possible and switching your hazard lights on. Exit the car from the passenger side if you can, to avoid potentially being hit by a vehicle in the inside lane. However tempting it seems, don’t stay in your car, as there’s always the chance a lorry or other vehicle may suddenly veer onto the hard shoulder. Telephone for assistance and wait on the embankment.

Look ahead: rather than keeping your eyes fixed on the white lines immediately to the sides of your bonnet in a bid to ensure you are staying central in your lane, look ahead into the distance as often as you can. That way, you’ll be able to see what’s happening, anticipate snarl-ups and keep your journey going as fluidly as possible.

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Wherever you’re headed this summer via a motorway, drive safely and have a great time. If you have any motorway driving tips or experiences to share, let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.