Driving tips: How to stay safe on a motorway
Essential advice from preparing your car for a journey to staying within the rules, and what to do in the event of a breakdown.
Few motorists look forward to driving on motorways because it's often a stressful experience that is not without its dangers.
In fact, a recent poll of 1,542 UK motorists by InsuretheGap revealed that more than a third of drivers avoid driving on motorways.
Separate research by Nissan found that more than half (55%) of drivers felt nervous when hemmed in between cars and lorries on motorways.
The fact is that multi-lane highways can be challenging environments, often bringing out the worst in drivers including speeding, tailgating, road rage and undertaking.
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Essential motorway safety advice
Ensure that you and your car are ready for the journey. The best way to avoid a breakdown on a long, high-speed run is by doing some basic checks, especially if your car is more used to local commutes. Check your car’s lights and top up the oil, coolant and screenwash, if required. Also make sure your tyres are the correct pressure and have no signs of damage or adverse wear.
Don't get distracted
Long motorway journeys can be tedious, but it's important to always stay alert because things can change in a fraction of a second. Passengers and pets must be kept under control, and you should avoid telephone calls - even if they are hands-free. As a general rule, if you need to do something distracting while driving - including eating and drinking - take a break at the next services.
Adjust your driving
Safe motorway driving is all about observation and anticipation. At high speeds you can come across incidents very quickly, so you need to be looking much further ahead than usual and have a greater awareness of what's going on around you so that you can anticipate potentially dangerous situations.
Look out for information and alerts on electronic signs. Whether it's variable speed limits, lane changing arrows, red Xs or messages about problems ahead, make sure you read them and react. For instance, a red X above a lane on a motorway means you must get out of that lane as soon as it's safe to do so and stay out until you're told otherwise. If you’re driving in a red X lane, you could receive a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points.
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Know your motorway manners
The left hand lane should be your 'base'. If the road ahead is clear, keep left and only use the other lanes for overtaking slower vehicles. Don't be a middle-lane hogger - it can aggravate other drivers and lead to tail-gating and flashing light incidents.
Watch your speed
Don't exceed the 70mph speed limit and be prepared to adjust your speed in heavy traffic, adverse weather conditions, or if instructed.
Check your mirrors
The situation on a motorway can change very quickly so it’s essential to keep scanning your mirrors as often as possible so that you can anticipate potential incidents.
Mind the gap
Always maintain a two-second gap between yourself and the vehicle in front of you, and double that distance in wet conditions because it takes longer to stop.
Only overtake on the right of other cars. Before you do so, check your mirrors and make sure it is safe to pull out. Also, look over your right shoulder and check your blind spot. Finally, indicate in good time, before changing lanes.
Keep calm and carry on
Relax and try to avoid road rage incidents. If another driver is being confrontational or aggressive, don’t make eye contact, don’t react and let them go on ahead. If you were at fault admit it, apologise and move on.
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How to navigate motorway roadworks
Narrower lanes, slow traffic, uneven surfaces and average speed cameras can make tackling roadworks a stressful experience, especially at night.
However, they are there for your safety and to keep the workforce safe, so it's important to follow these four simple rules.
1. Look as far ahead as possible and stay alert because lanes sometimes split and merge.
2. Maintain a safe distance of at least two seconds between you and the car in front (four seconds in the wet). If other traffic moves into your gap, adjust it by slowing very slightly.
3. Avoid changing lanes. Switching lanes increases your chances of being involved in a collision.
4. Consider using a speed limiter or cruise control, if you have it, especially if there are average speed cameras.