You may or may not be aware that, statistically, motorways are the safest roads in the UK. Nevertheless, it is undeniably the case that many of us – experienced drivers included – are understandably nervous when faced with the prospect of travelling long distances on these busy, fast-moving highways.
With that in mind, we have spoken to a couple of industry experts to come up with a list of top tips for motorway driving. If you are someone who occasionally feels anxious about it, be sure to put your mind at ease by reading the below advice before you set off on your next journey.
Many people find that getting onto the road in the first place is one of the worst things about motorway driving.
However, it’s important to remember if you can that your fellow drivers have as much responsibility as you when it comes to joining traffic. Drivers already on the motorway will have advance warning that slip roads are coming up and it is their place to make sure those who are coming onto the road have the time and space they need by moving across into another lane when it is safe to do so.
For your part, the most important thing you need to bear in mind is that you should not be hesitant. Ideally, you should try to match the speed of the cars already on the motorway when you join, so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic. You will have to be prepared to slow down a bit if you can see that others are struggling to let you join due to particularly heavy traffic but it is not usually the case that this has to be done.
Learning how to use your mirrors correctly was probably one of the first things you were taught when learning to drive but the old ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ routine is something which many of us become rather lax with once we have been driving for a few years.
When travelling on the motorway, however, making regular use of your mirrors is absolutely vital. The most important part of travelling on these busy roads is being aware of the fast-moving traffic around you, and checking both your wing and rear mirrors is the best way to make sure you do this.
You will obviously need to check your mirrors (as well as your blind spot) when overtaking others but you should also try to keep an eye on your rear mirror at regular intervals, even when the road ahead of you is clear. Doing this will allow you to get a good idea of the volume of traffic that may be building up behind you and will make you aware of any other drivers who may be coming up behind you at excessive speed.
If you have ever been a passenger of someone else driving on the motorway, you will probably have seen the signs reminding drivers that ‘tiredness can kill – take a break’.
Many of us like to think that fatigue doesn’t affect us that much and that, even if we do feel exhausted, it’s nothing that can’t be sorted out with a cup of coffee or energy drink before setting off. Unfortunately, though, this can often prove to be a naïve and even dangerous attitude to have when it comes to motorway driving.
Even if you feel fine when you start your journey, the chances are that you will stop feeling fresh after a couple of hours or so of travelling. The intense concentration that is required whilst travelling on fast roads is enough to sap energy from anyone, and it has to be said that – in terms of the scenery – motorways tend to be fairly dull places, which can also contribute to this kind of driving being much more exhausting than winding your way along a country road.
Taking a break every two hours is a good rule to set yourself. You do not need to stop for long, so you won’t have to worry about too much time being added onto your journey; a 15-minute ‘pit stop’ should be more than enough – the important thing is that you have a brief change of scene and stretch your legs. Even if you don’t buy any caffeinated treats, the simple act of getting off the motorway for a short spell should work wonders and ensure you are in the best frame of mind for your onward journey.
This may be an old piece of advice but it’s nevertheless one of the most important ones to keep in mind when driving on the motorway: keep your distance from the car in front!
To get a new perspective on this tried and tested guidance, we spoke to the experts at GEM Motoring Assist, an organisation which originated in 1932 as the ‘Company of Veteran Motorists’. 85 years later, GEM is regarded as one of the UK’s leading breakdown recovery providers and also runs its own road safety charity. Here’s what Neil Worth, Road Safety Officer at GEM, had to say about the highly dangerous practice of motorway tailgating and how it can be avoided by using the ‘two-second rule’:
“Drivers regularly place being tailgated up there at the top of the list of annoying, unpleasant and dangerous things they experience on the road. Imagine a sudden problem ahead of you on a motorway or dual carriageway. According to the Highway Code, if you’re driving at 70mph you will need a minimum of 96 metres to come to a stop. This relies on your being alert and able to react immediately to the problem you’ve spotted ahead. Any sort of distraction will compromise that ability, meaning you will continue driving towards the problem at more than 60 metres per second.
“The two-second rule is a great guide, and it works because it’s time-based, not distance-based. There’s flexibility that matches your speed, so it doesn’t mean carrying a spreadsheet of distances and speeds around in your head. You should note as the vehicle in front passes a fixed point, such as a tree or lamp-post. Then you say ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.’ If you are still speaking when you pass the same fixed point, then you are following too close.
“We know that some aggressive drivers deliberately choose a close-following position in an attempt to intimidate those in front of them. But we are also concerned about those who may follow too closely simply because they’re not paying attention or they’re simply not aware of the space they would need to stop if anything went wrong ahead of them. They don’t mean anyone else any harm, but they’re still putting lives at risk.
“Trying out the two-second rule on a road journey should be very helpful in demonstrating whether we are following at a distance that will let us react and stop safely if we need to, or whether we are putting ourselves and others at risk because there’s simply not enough space in front of us.”
GEM also offered some additional tips on how to ensure you keep an appropriate distance from the cars in front, including advice on what to do during inclement weather and when someone is following you too closely:
• Maintain the two-second rule on any journey, not just the motorway.
• In wet weather, two seconds needs to become four seconds. This is because reduced visibility means spotting hazards is harder, and tyres have less grip on wet roads, meaning it takes longer to stop.
• Don’t assume that different rules apply to drivers of modern cars with fantastic brakes. Effective braking – and doing it early enough – still relies on observant, alert drivers.
• Check your driver seating position to ensure you can brake hard if you suddenly need to. This can be compromised if your seat is positioned too far forward, or too far back.
• Make a habit of observing what’s going on beyond the vehicle in front. Seeing the possible problems well ahead on the motorway means fewer nasty surprises.
• If you’re concerned that someone is following you too closely, then leave plenty of extra room ahead of you in your lane so that you can lose speed gradually if you need to.
Finally, the most important piece of advice: trust your own driving skills.
As we mentioned at the top of the page, motorways are actually the safest type of road in the UK and, more than anything, it’s our natural fear of the unknown that makes many of us anxious about travelling on them. However, if you just bear in mind the safety essentials you learnt during your driving lessons – as well as the tips above – you will be absolutely fine and, by the time you get to your destination, will wonder what it is you were worrying about!
This is certainly the view of Mike Ketteringham, CEO at ingenie car insurance, specialists in ‘black box’ insurance who use telematics to provide useful feedback to young drivers on their motoring habits and help those who drive safely to make significant savings on their insurance quotes.
Mike had the following to say about why driving on the motorway doesn’t have to be as stressful as you might think, and also offers some tips which reinforce some of the points we made earlier: “Motorway driving can feel daunting but once you’ve safely joined – getting up to speed and using your mirrors – it’s fine. Everyone’s going in the same direction and you don’t have to worry about roundabouts and pedestrians, so you can just focus on what you’re doing. To make sure you stay alert, take a break every two hours and stop at a service station if you feel at all drowsy.”
It doesn't matter whether you have just started driving or regularly travel long distances with the help of a new vehicle lease, sticking to the simple rules discussed above will not just ensure that you stay safe but that you are able to truly enjoy your next motorway driving experience.
* All vehicle images and car descriptions on this site are for illustration and reference purposes only and are not necessarily an accurate representation of the vehicle on offer.
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