How to drive on a motorway

There’s no dark art to motorway driving. Simply give yourself the space and time to react

It’s a somewhat mystifying fact that the first time you legally drive on a motorway in the UK, you could be doing so on your own, in the dark, when it’s raining or in fog, or even when it’s snowing, if the gods are being particularly unkind. But driving on a motorway needn’t be as terrifying as some drivers believe it to be, because as ever there are a few golden rules to abide by.

Always give yourself plenty of room in which to operate, not just by leaving lots of room to cars in front, but also those to the sides and rear. Remember that you can control the amount of space behind you by allowing a tailgating vehicle to pass and have its own accident, one that doesn’t involve you.

Look as far down the motorway as you can to anticipate what might be about to happen, long before it actually does. You can spot the drivers who are better at this than others by looking at their brake lights. Drivers who are aware of what’s going on further up the road don’t brake as hard or as often, whereas drivers whose eyes aren’t focused beyond the end of their own bonnet brake harder and more frequently, often for no reason whatsoever.

Try not to do anything sudden or unexpected when driving on a motorway, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. The rules that are applied on any other road still stand on the motorway, only they’re more important because the speeds are that much higher. Inevitably we’re talking about good anticipation and smooth inputs, not just at the wheel but also on the brakes and accelerator. The ultimate aim is not to present other drivers with unwanted surprises, because when things go wrong at motorway speeds, they can go wrong very quickly. The key is to try and do everything you can to prevent things from going wrong in the first place.

Pay attention

How do you do this? Well, if there’s a crisp packet in the road, or something similarly insignificant, don’t brake and swerve to avoid it because drivers around you will think something far more dramatic is happening. If it’s safe to do so, simply run over it. That’s when motorways sometimes grind to a halt and no one can understand why: three miles up the road, someone who wasn’t paying attention thought a packet of cheese and onion was something much more threatening, just for a moment, so swerved and braked hard to avoid it. Then they carried on driving, entirely unaware that they might have just caused an actual pile-up further behind them.

Similarly, try not to lose your patience with other drivers. They might well be driving like a you-know-what, and could be putting other drivers at risk by tailgating, undertaking or, at the other extreme, sitting in the overtaking lane at 60mph while the lanes to their left are empty. But the only way you can control the situation is with your own actions.

Sometimes this is easier to say than do. But the moment you start to lose your patience with another driver is the moment you begin to lose control, not just of yourself but of the situation. And that’s not a good place to find yourself in on any road, let alone one on which there are hundreds of tonnes of metal around you, all travelling at a mile a minute or more.

So stay calm and alert, and stick to the rules while being quietly aware of what’s going on around you. Do this, and motorways can be wonderful ways of getting from A to B. Remember that statistically they are still our safest roads by far, as well as our quickest and most efficient routes. 

Pull in, take a break

Statistics show that you are significantly less likely to have an accident when driving on a motorway if you take regular breaks, even just for five minutes to climb out, stretch, grab a coffee or take a socially distanced walk around the car park for some fresh air. 

The moment you start to get tired isn’t the first sign that you should take a break, it’s proof that you have been very lucky not to already have had an accident.

In other words, make sure you take a break every couple of hours. Don’t wait until you need one, because by then it could already be too late.

What are your top tips for motorway driving? Let us know in the comments...

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e
Fiat 500 vs Honda e vs MINI Electric
Car group tests

Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e

The new Fiat 500, MINI Electric and Honda e are three retro-inspired electric superminis - but which is best?
19 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition
Ford Puma

Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed

Ford unveils a special edition Puma ST, with a black and gold colour scheme chosen by Ford fans over social media
18 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review
Nissan Qashqai 2021
Nissan Qashqai

New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review

We get behind the wheel of the larger, more comfortable and higher-tech Nissan Qashqai SUV in the UK
16 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power
Vauxhall Astra render
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power

The new Vauxhall Astra will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a more premium image - here’s how it could look
17 Jun 2021
New 2021 Hyundai Tucson N-Line hybrid and PHEV on sale now
Hyundai Tuscon N Line - front
Hyundai Tucson

New 2021 Hyundai Tucson N-Line hybrid and PHEV on sale now

Hyundai names price for new Tucson N-Line hybrid duo with plug-in offering 38 miles of electric running
18 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services
Tesla Model 3 police car - front
News

Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services

Tesla hopes to offer UK police forces a new zero-emission emergency responder option with the Model 3 police car
17 Jun 2021
Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police
police speed gun
News

Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police

Lack of road traffic police officers in the UK is making it easy for drivers to break the law, according to a survey of 15,500 British motorists
16 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
New Mercedes-AMG S 63 spied in minimal camouflage
Mercedes-AMG S 63
Mercedes S-Class

New Mercedes-AMG S 63 spied in minimal camouflage

AMG will soon launch a tuned version of Mercedes’s flagship limousine, probably powered by a 603bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine
18 Jun 2021