Should driving lessons include motorways?

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The motorway: two words that can strike fear into the heart of many an inexperienced driver.

It's understandable new drivers get nervous of motorway driving. They're some of our fastest, busiest roads, and travelling at these speeds can be nerve-wracking - especially if you're in a smaller car and find yourself surrounded by heavy goods vehicles. So what can we do about that?

There are new proposals to help learner drivers get experience on the motorway, and a few tips for those of you who have your tests already booked.

Can learner drivers drive on motorways?

At the moment, learner drivers are not allowed on motorways. You need to be a full licence holder to drive on the motorway, meaning the first time a newly-qualified driver experiences a motorway could be entirely by themselves.

In some respects, though, motorway driving is a bit like driving on a long dual carriageway. Indeed, some motorways (like stretches of the M42 in the Midlands) have just two lanes, exactly like a dual carriageway.

Learners can get experience of dual carriageways with either their instructor as part of lessons or by driving a friend or family member's car. Veygo by Admiral's Learner Driver Insurance gives you instant cover while you learn in a family member's car and starts from just £1.71 a day for 90-day cover.

Including motorway driving on the driving test

 

 

It's possible the UK driving test will be changed to incorporate motorway driving under plans recently announced by the Department of Transport.

The proposals are that motorway lessons will be voluntary, and only permitted where the learner is accompanied by an approved driving instructor in a dual-controlled car.

RAC Foundation director, Steve Gooding, shone a little light on the thinking.

The casualty statistics tell us motorways are our safest roads, but they can feel anything but safe to a newly-qualified driver/ Many are so intimidated by the motorway environment they choose instead to use statistically more dangerous roads, he said.

It’s unclear how learners in some parts of the country would be affected by these changes, as the UK's motorway network does not extend into many parts of Wales, northern Scotland, East Anglia, the East Midlands, Northumberland, or Cornwall.

Jimmy Ho, an approved driving instructor from Diamond Advanced Motorists, gave his opinion on the changes.

“I believe that for too many years the driving test has been a test based on exercises that don't really reflect real life driving," he said.

"Motorway lessons should be compulsory rather than voluntary. All learner drivers should have the training and experience to drive on different types of roads, and it makes no sense that people can choose whether to reduce their risk of accidents or not.

When are these changes happening?

There's no guarantee they ever will. Either way, making changes to the driving test is a long process, so if you're learning at the moment you will probably have taken your test and passed before these changes come into effect.

Any proposed changes have to go through a period of public consultation first, where individuals can provide their feedback on the changes. Some other changes are already on the verge of coming into effect: we've written about what they include, and how to prepare for them, here.

What is motorway driving like?

 

 

Motorway driving is typically very safe. The lanes are wide and fairly straight, and there aren't any pedestrians to worry about.

You still need to have your wits about you, though, and should check your mirrors regularly for other drivers approaching from the side or rear.

Joining the motorway

When driving down the slip-road, get up to speed as quickly as you can, bearing in mind there may be traffic at a standstill on the motorway. If the traffic is flowing freely, merge into the inside lane, making sure to signal and check your blind spot for anyone already in the lane.

Counterintuitively, the inside lane isn't the one at the middle of the carriageway (where the central reservation is), but the one closest to the hard shoulder. If you're feeling nervous, stick to this lane.

When passing an entry slip-road, you may want to move into the middle lane to create a space for drivers entering the motorway as they get up to speed. Once you've overtaken them, you can move back into the inside lane.

Overtaking

You can use the middle lane, and in turn the outside lane, to overtake people.

Remember, the speed limit is the same for everyone on the motorway, even when overtaking: 70mph. When you're overtaking on the motorway, you should always overtake to the right.

Some drivers can get irritated by so-called 'middle lane hogs', who force people into the outside lane to overtake. Not only will you irritate other drivers, but it's actually an offence that can earn you three points on your licence and a £100 fine.

So if you're not overtaking someone, move left to let other drivers past.

Maintaining a safe distance

 

 

Leave a good gap between you and the car in front. Some motorways have chevrons painted onto them to help you with spacing - you should aim to leave a gap of two chevrons.

If someone is hogging the middle lane and won't pull left to let you past, be patient. Tailgating is illegal. Flashing your lights is bad road manners and can distract the driver from moving across safely.

Look out for upcoming hills and be prepared to change into a lower gear to keep up your speed. Be aware that some larger vehicles, especially lorries and coaches, can struggle to maintain their speed on hills, so be prepared to react and apply the brakes if needs be.

Staying alert

On long motorway treks, the monotony of the journey can take its toll on your ability to concentrate. Take a good 15-minute break at least every two hours or so by pulling into a service station, stretching your legs and grabbing a coffee.

Exiting the motorway

Plan your journey ahead and make a mental note of the junction number you need. The upcoming junctions should be well sign-posted, so be ready to move across into the correct lane. There are countdown markers telling you how far it is until the slip-road; three bars is 300 yards, two bars is 200 yards, and so on.

 

 

 

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