Lifestyle Guides

How to drive safely on a motorway

Get great motoring advice and learn more about road safety from the experts at Admiral


Love them or loathe them, motorways are generally the fastest way to get from A to B, so often there's no choice but to use them.

Sadly motorway driving often brings out the worst in drivers including road rage, speeding, tailgating and undertaking.

The government is so worried about safety that since June 4, 2018, learner drivers have been allowed to learn how to drive on motorways with an approved driving instructor. Before then, it was only possible to have motorway lessons after you’d passed your driving test

Here's some essential motorway driving tips to help you stay safe on motorways

Be prepared

"Our general advice for motorway driving is to always ensure that you and your car are up to the journey," says Neil Greig of IAM RoadSmart, the UK's leading road safety charity.

"Motorways are our safest roads but if you have to stop in a running lane or on the hard shoulder the risk of a collision rises substantially."

The best way to avoid a breakdown is by doing some basic checks before setting off on a long, high-speed run, especially when it’s likely that your car is more used to the local commute or shopping run. Check lights, tyres (including the spare) and top up the coolant and windscreen washer bottle.

Running out of fuel is also incredibly common on a motorway and puts you at huge risk so always make sure you have enough fuel to get you to your destination or plan your stops in order to refuel.

Finally, never join a motorway in a car that is showing warning lights.

Avoid distractions 


"Motorways can be very dull and boring places to spend a few hours behind the wheel so keeping alert is vital," advises said Neil Greig of IAM RoadSmart.

"Plan a break of at least 20 minutes every two hours and take in some caffeine and fresh air before setting off again. Distractions such as passengers, loose luggage or pets all need to be kept under control."

Adjust your driving

"Motorway skills are different from other roads but providing you apply the core IAM RoadSmart principles of observation and anticipation you should be OK," says Neil Greig.

"Observation is critical at high speeds, meaning you can come across incidents very quickly. On a motorway you need to be looking much further ahead and much further behind to ensure you know what is developing. Also, changing lanes in front of a fast approaching vehicle is not likely to endear you to the driver!"    Learn to anticipate problems. For example, look out when overtaking foreign trucks with the driver on the left and be ready to let drivers enter the motorway at slip roads by moving over. Also, keep a watchful eye out for those drivers illegally using a mobile phone and not paying attention.

Stay vigilant


"Taking on board the information from electronic signs and signals is also very important," advises IAM RoadSmart. "The growing number of smart motorways will have variable speed limits, lane changing arrows, Red Xs, journey time information and messages about diversions and problems ahead. 

"This information is getting more reliable all the time so make sure you read it and react. Complying with a Red X above a lane is one of the most common mistakes drivers make. A Red X has the same legal status as a red light – it means get out of that lane now and you should never use it as an excuse to gain a few places on the queue."

Motorway etiquette

Consider the left hand lane your ‘base’. If the road is clear ahead, keep left and only use the other lanes for overtaking slower vehicles. Many motorists stick to the middle lane to minimise lane changes, but this only aggravates other drivers and can lead to flashing and tail-gating incidents.

Remain calm and check your mirrors frequently to monitor the situation around you, and always try to maintain a two-second gap between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. Double the distance in wet conditions because it takes longer to stop when it's raining.

Plan your journey and watch the signs. Too often drivers make last-minute decisions, cutting across lanes of traffic to get off the motorway or into the correct lane if the carriageway is about to split.

Tackling motorway roadworks


Motorway rules can get even more stringent when driving through roadworks . Narrower lanes, slow traffic and average speed cameras all add to the challenge - especially at night.

Ultimately, they are there for your safety and the safety of the workforce, so follow these simple rules...

  • Try and look as far ahead as possible and stay alert - lanes sometimes split and merge. 
  • Maintain a safe distance of at least two seconds between you and the car in front. If other traffic moves into your gap, adjust it by slowing very slightly. 
  • Avoid changing lanes - this only increases the chances of being involved in a collision.
  • Average speed cameras are now a common sight. Use your cruise control if you have it and don't worry if you're slower than other vehicles - it's up to them if they want to risk getting points on their licence.

What to do if you breakdown on the motorway

Breaking down on a motorway is especially dangerous because of the high speeds involved.

Here are a few tips:

  • Expect the unexpected and plan ahead. Keep a reflective jacket, warm waterproof clothes, a torch and a warning triangle in your car. Save the number of your breakdown company and your membership number in your mobile phone. 
  • As soon as something feels wrong with your car, check your mirrors, indicate and pull over to the hard shoulder. Get out of your vehicle by the left-hand door and make sure all your passengers do the same. If you have a hi-vis jacket, put it on and make sure everyone is standing well away from moving traffic - on a grass embankment or behind a safety barrier.
  • Use one of the emergency phones found on the motorway if you can’t get mobile reception. Remember, you may be asked to give the number on the nearest marker post, located every 100 metres or on a square blue sign every 500 metres.
  • Don’t attempt a repair on the hard shoulder of a motorway, call your breakdown company.  

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.