How should I drive on a motorway?

From the 4th June 2018, learner drivers in England, Scotland and Wales will be allowed on the motorway for the first time as long as they are accompanied by a fully qualified driving instructor.

Learner drivers on motorways

While motorways can seem a little daunting, if you are equipped with all of the necessary information, you needn’t be worried about driving on them. We have broken this question down a little, so you can see some of the specific points to remember while driving on a motorway.

We have also included a handy checklist of important things to remember, for both instructors and learners.

For instructors

  • The driving instructor must be fully qualified. It is an offence for a trainee driving instructor to conduct a motorway lesson with a provisional licence holder. You must complete all part 3 driving instructor training, pass the part 3 test and hold a green ADI badge.
  • The driving instructor must use their judgement and only take the learner on the motorway when they are competent and test ready.
  • In a normal lesson, the instructor may pull up on a side road to discuss a driving matter. This should not be done on the hard shoulder, but can be done at a service station car park.
  • The instructor must be very sure that their roof sign is safe and secure to withstand the consistent 70mph speed for a long period of time. If unsure, check the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • In high winds or if the instructor’s car is icy, consider taking the roof sign off and displaying only L-plates.
  • L-plates should be used on the front and back of the car as a minimum.
  • PDIs can provide refreshers training to full licence holders, but not provisional licence holders.
  • PDIs are not allowed to provide pass plus training until they are fully qualified.
  • If you and your pupil do not live near a motorway, this lesson may be more theory based/Q+A based, covering dual carriageways where possible.
  • Double check with your insurance company that your policy allows for learners on the motorway. Especially while this law is new.

For learners

  • You can’t go on the motorway with friends or family, even if the car is insured for a provisional licence holder. You are only legally allowed to go on the with a fully qualified driving instructor.
  • Trust your driving instructor’s judgement as to when they think you may be ready to go on the motorway.
  • It is not essential to go on the motorway to pass your driving test. You will not go on the motorway regardless of your location for the driving test.
  • You may be required to do at least a 2-3 hour lesson to cover motorways thoroughly and to allow for travel time to get to the motorway and possible delays on the motorway. For example, If you are taking your driving lessons in Oxford then you wouldn’t be able to complete a motorway lesson in anything less than 2 hours.
  • By doing a 2-3 hour lesson on the motorway, you should experience some driver fatigue/tiredness while under the guidance of the instructor. If this is the case, your instructor might advise a short break during the lesson.

Motorway driving lessons

Below is a syllabus providing different teaching elements for motorways that should be understood and demonstrated by the learner.

Skill requirements

  • Effective observation
  • Good anticipation
  • Effective use of mirrors
  • Continual re-assessment of other vehicles
  • Reading the road ahead
  • Joining from slip roads, judgement of speed and position of other vehicles
  • Following distances
  • Safe overtaking
  • Courtesy to other road users

Teaching elements to be covered

  • Forward planning and observation
  • Reaction to other road users
  • Lane discipline
  • Safe lane changing
  • Separation distances
  • Reaction to road signs and markings
  • Awareness and planning
  • Judgement of faster moving traffic
  • Vehicle lighting requirements
  • Journey planning, use of Service Areas
  • How to avoid fatigue, adequate ventilation
  • Joining and leaving motorways, using acceleration and deceleration lanes
  • Emerging and safe overtaking
  • Assessing other traffic
  • Understanding Crawler Lanes and slow-moving traffic
  • Dealing with LGVs, high sided vehicles, side winds and turbulence
  • Driving in adverse weather conditions, high winds, rain, spray, fog, snow/ice
  • Smart Motorways, Gantry Signs and lane use
  • Understanding Marker Posts and Safety Telephones
  • Accident and breakdown procedures
  • Dealing with multi-agency incidents
  • Dealing with contraflow and other road maintenance
  • Safe use of Hard Shoulders
  • How to react to Emergency Vehicles and Highways Agency Officers

What is a smart motorway?

Smart motorways are motorways that use traffic management techniques in order to control traffic flow and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas of the UK. You will find Smart motorways around big cities such as London. If you are taking your driving lessons in Hayes for example, you may get chance to go onto the M25  and experience smart motorways.

How do they work?

Sensors are fitted onto the road, as well as cameras fitted on gantries, and are used to monitor the traffic flow and congestion by changing speed restrictions along the motorway.

Operatives in the Regional Control Centre monitor the network to spot any potential problems.

When the traffic is free flowing, no speed restrictions are put in place.

When a smart motorway activates a speed restriction, it will reduce speeds for miles back along the motorway. This ensures that free flowing traffic will not catch up to the problem area. This often causes some drivers to get frustrated as they can’t see any reason for the restriction to be in place.

Once the problem has been resolved, the smart motorway will increase the speeds again and, in theory, you shouldn’t see a problem.

However, some people do not obey the rules. They will accelerate up to the gantry then brake when they get to it, accelerating away from it again. The motorway will detect the heavy braking and acceleration and will reduce the speed restriction even lower, thinking there is a hazard.

The speed cameras on the smart motorway are set to the speed that the sign is showing. When a speed limit is reduced, i.e. from 60mph to 50mph, the camera will not re-calibrate to the lower speed until 60 seconds has passed. This gives you time to gradually reduce your speed and not put yourself, or others, in danger by braking heavily with traffic behind you.

Why close lanes?

Sometimes, lanes on the motorway will be closed. This could happen for any of the following reasons:

  • When there is a broken-down vehicle in the lane
  • When there are animals or people in the lane
  • When there is some other obstruction in the lane
  • When the lane is needed for emergency access

Why are speeds restricted?

  • To slow you down before you get to stationary traffic or a lane closure
  • To keep traffic flowing
  • To protect you when bad weather means the national speed limit is no longer safe
  • To protect road workers and stranded motorists
  • To reduce air pollution

Speeds are restricted to slow you down before you come to a problem. Slower speeds mean you’ll have more time to stop for any hazards, especially during bad weather conditions. Research has shown that many people underestimate their stopping distance in bad weather and speed restrictions overcome this by forcing road users to slow down.

Cars moving at slower speeds produce less air pollution too, improving the air quality in the area. Pollution sensors on smart motorways can also trigger speed restrictions. As well as being bad for the environment, air pollution has also been widely linked with poor health conditions, so it is important to reduce it.

When there is a lot of traffic on the motorway, driving faster can actually decrease the flow of traffic, meaning you can end up going slower. The restricted speeds can keep traffic moving at optimal speeds, keeping traffic flowing freely, stopping people from being held up.

Joining a smart motorway

When you join a smart motorway, you will see the variable speed limit sign on the joining slip road. If the speed limit has been reduced, you will also see a sign telling you that’s the case.

Once you have joined the motorway, the overhead gantries will reflect the current speed limit in force. They will also show other information such as lane closures, what to expect up ahead and any obstructions in the road.

Breaking down on a motorway

Refuge areas are situated on motorways for you to seek refuge in the event of a breakdown or emergency. These are spaced depending on the areas of the motorway carrying the most traffic. For example, on a busy motorway they can be 500m apart whereas on a quiet motorway they can be between 1 and 1.5 miles apart.

What should I do in an emergency?

If you need to stop but cannot make it to the next junction or service station safely, you can stop in the emergency refuge area and use the phone to call the control centre.

DO NOT use the emergency area for non-emergency situations as this creates danger for other road users.

You should stop in the emergency refuge area, switch on your hazard lights and use the emergency phone to contact the control centre, explaining to them what the situation is.

If you are unable to get to a refuge area, stop in the hard shoulder (if there is one) or on the verge and either call from your mobile phone or walk to the nearest emergency area. Wait on the verge behind your vehicle and behind the barrier.

If you are stranded in a live lane, switch on your hazard lights. Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt on and call 999 from your mobile.

Once you are repaired and ready to continue, use the emergency phone and inform the control centre. They will close the lane behind you so you can re-join the motorway safely. Do not move until the control centre instructs you to.

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