For many people, motorway driving can be a source of stress; while statistics suggest that we actually have far fewer accidents while travelling on the motorway network, incidents can of course be much more serious due to the high speeds involved. However, by following a number of fundamental tips and techniques in this post, you can help to minimise avoidable risks and make your motorway experience safer and more enjoyable.
Check your speed!
Inexperienced and nervous drivers are often put off motorway driving by the relatively high speeds. Driving above the 70 mph limit is a recipe for disaster (not to mention illegal), and ought to be avoided. It’s also key to take note of any “smart” motorway signs and warning messages advising of different speed limits, for example during periods of congestion or through roadworks.
It’s also important that drivers feel comfortable with their speed. Inexperienced drivers can take special motorway driving lessons, which can boost confidence. Driving very slowly on the motorway can also provide a hazard for other motorists so do not be tempted to travel at 30 mph just because you’re nervous – you’re more likely to cause problems for other drivers.
Leave a safe distance
The rule of thumb is to leave around two seconds gap between your vehicle and the one in front; this should give you plenty of time to spot danger, and also ample time to brake. When the motorway is busy it’s not always possible to do this – and often if you leave a gap you’ll see another motorist move into it, but try and leave as much space as you can around you. If you feel a car is too close behind you, don’t be tempted to speed up to “lose it” – when it’s safe to do so, move to an inside lane and allow it to pass.
The extra speed, and impatience of some motorists, can leave you feeling harrassed or angry. It’s vital to remain calm, as losing your temper can cause you to drive erratically and not only endanger you but anyone around you. Chasing a car that’s flashed its headlights at you is a very bad idea!
It is advisable to stay as far to the left on the motorway as possible; by proceeding carefully in the left hand lane, there is plenty of room in the other two (or more) lanes for faster moving traffic to pass. Should you need to overtake a slower moving vehicle in front, also bear in mind that you’ll need to check mirrors and adjust your road position well in advance due to the high speeds involved.
Often motorists leave a very short distance to the car in front before pulling out to overtake; this can not only cause stress to the driver in front, it leaves you open to a crash if the vehicle in front hits his brakes. Using mirrors, and clearly indicating before switching lanes, is very important. Don’t forget to indicate when returning to the inside lane. Don’t take a risk when there’s no need.
Mirrors, mirros, mirrors
Good use of mirrors is vital on the motorway. In addition to the main lanes, there are numerous slip roads, and cars can often enter a motorway into the left lane travelling at high speed. It’s vital to be aware of what’s happening behind you just as much as it is to look well ahead to anticipate problems.
Proper use of slip roads
Slip roads are a major point of danger on the motorway. Whether it’s vehicles rushing down the slip road accelerating to get onto the motorway ahead of traffic or people leaving it to the last possible second to exit the motorway, many incidents and problems are easily avoided.
When entering the motorway, a good tip is to match your speed to that of traffic in the left hand lane, clearly indicate your intent to join the road, and find a convenient gap to move into. Don’t accelerate to nip ahead of a lorry or queue of traffic if it’s not safe to do so – this will leave you little time to adjust your position if something happens, and can cause problems for other drivers.
When leaving the motorway, get into the left hand lane well in advance of the junction, signal your intent to leave once you reach the 300 yard exit marker, and pull onto the slip road as soon as possible. Do not attempt to overtake traffic on the slip road, or get past “just one more” car in the left hand lane before exiting as this is not safe. Vehicles which cut across multiple lanes of traffic onto a slip road at the last moment are running major risks both for themselves and all other traffic. When the slip road is clear, you should exit the motorway before reducing speed significantly, as strong braking can cause a hazard for vehicles behind you.
Avoid unnecessary flashing!
The Highway Code recommends that drivers only flash their lights to notify other drivers of their presence – not to guide them into lanes or otherwise communicate. Flashing lights can be a big problem if several vehicles interpret the signal as an indicator for them to change lanes; numerous accidents happen when cars in the left and right hand lanes simultaneously move into the centre lane as the result of a vehicle flashing its lights. Always use your mirrors and check your blind spots before changing lanes.
Keep a safety kit and useful numbers
If you do break down or have an accident, it’s important to exit the vehicle and move off the motorway. Do NOT attempt to remove a vehicle or possessions from the carriageway as you run the risk of serious injury or even death. Move to the verge or well away from the motorway before making any phone calls and make sure that all occupants of your vehicle are safely off the road.
Useful things to keep in the car include a hi-vis jacket, a red warning triangle, phone numbers for any breakdown or insurance companies that you use, a first aid kit, and other emergency contact details. In cold weather, it’s worth having a travelling kit which could contain food and drink, extra clothes, blankets, torches and other useful items.
Many accidents happen through the driver being distracted. If you’re travelling with children, make sure they have plenty to occupy them on the journey. If you are listening to music, don’t have it at a distracting volume (for example, not so loud that you can’t hear a police or ambulance siren), and turn your mobile phone off.
Tired? Take a break
One of the other major causes or accidents is driver fatigue and even falling asleep at the wheel. If you do feel drowsy, open a window and stop at the nearest exit or services as soon as possible. Have a short nap or get a coffee. Walking around in the fresh air for 5 minutes can also help. It’s advisable to take a 15 minute break every two hours, but in poorly-lit sections or in hazardous conditions, more regular breaks are recommended.
It’s good practice to check your tyre pressures, oil level and the levels of windscreen washer fluid regularly. Correctly inflated tyres will not only help you brake safely, they can boost your fuel economy. Keeping windows free of dirt and road grime is also a must when travelling, especially at speed. If you can’t see properly, you’re a hazard to yourself and others.
By following these hints, you can minimise many of the more common risks of motorway driving and ensure that you get to your destination safely and efficiently.
We found even more hints and tips in this road driving safety guide, which seems to cover everything from safe overtaking techniques to improving your hazard perception.