Driving on the motorway: the complete guide
Learner drivers are allowed on motorways. Here are our top tips for driving on the UK’s busiest roads.
Motorways can seem really daunting when you’re learning to drive. There are lots of fast cars, new road signs and rules. But with our guide to motorway driving and a bit of practice, you’ll be confidently driving on the motorway in no time.
Can learner drivers drive on the motorway?
Learner drivers have been allowed to drive on the motorway since 2018. However, they need to be with an approved driving instructor in a car that’s fitted with dual controls. Motorway lessons are voluntary so you’ll only have them when your instructor thinks you’re ready and you won’t be asked to drive on the motorway during your practical driving test.
What is each lane on the motorway for?
There’s no such thing as a fast or slow lane. There are three lanes on a motorway and it’s really important to know the rules. Here’s a run down of when to use all three lanes. Top tip: it’s always the left lane unless you’re overtaking!
This is the left-hand lane. You’ll often hear it called the nearside lane or inside lane. Lane one is for normal driving. You should always stay in this lane unless you’re overtaking.
This is the middle lane and should only be used for overtaking. You should move back to lane one as soon as it is safe to do so after overtaking. You can also move into the middle lane to allow vehicles to join the motorway from the left.
This is the right-hand lane. You may hear it referred to as the off-side lane or outside lane. Lane three should only be used if traffic in lanes one and two is moving in queues and you need to overtake. You should move back to lane two, and then lane one when safe to do so.
Reflective studs on the motorway
There are reflective studs on motorways to guide you when driving at night. You may hear them called by the far cuter name ‘Cat’s Eyes’. You may have also noticed that they’re in different colours. Here’s what all the different colours of reflective studs mean when you’re driving on the motorway.
Red reflective studs
Red studs on the motorway can be found at the hard shoulder division. This is the left-hand side of the motorway between the left lane and the hard shoulder. It’s there so you know where the left lane ends and the hard shoulder begins when driving at night.
Amber reflective studs
Amber studs on the motorway can be found at the central reservation. The central reservation is the area in the middle of two divided roadways that separates lanes that are travelling in opposite directions. You’ll also find amber reflective studs on dual carriageways at the central reservation.
White reflective studs
White studs on the motorway are there for mid lane division. These reflective studs are put in between motorway lanes to help make sure you stay in your lane.
Green reflective studs
Green studs on the motorway mark the slip road division. That’s the edge of the main carriageway when the motorway goes into a slip road.
How to join the motorway
Joining the motorway can seem scary when you haven’t done it before. Use the slip road to build up speed before joining the motorway. Aim to match the speed of the rest of the traffic and check there’s a safe gap in the traffic for you to merge. Use the Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre routine before you merge into the motorway.
We’ve got a whole guide on joining the motorway, including a step-by-step video on how to join the motorway.
How to leave the motorway
It’s just as important to know how to exit the motorway properly. It’s a good idea to plan your route in advance, so you know which junction you need. Keep any eye on the road signs so you can prepare and avoid missing your exit.
- Make sure you’re in the left lane when you’re approaching the junction
- Look out for the motorway countdown signs indicating when you’re 300,200 and 100 yards away
- Signal left when you reach the first marker for 300 yards
- Use the slip road to exit
How to overtake on the motorway?
- Only overtake on the right of the car (in lane two or three)
- Check your mirrors and your blind spot
- Indicate right to make your intention to move lanes clear to other drivers
- Cancel your indicator once you’ve moved lanes
- Once you’ve overtaken and have built up a safe distance between you and the car in the left, check your mirrors, signal and move back into the left lane when it’s safe to do so
Check out our guide on overtaking rules to find out all about when you should and shouldn’t overtake.
Motorway driving tips
- Do some basic car maintenance checks before heading out on a long motorway journey.
- Leave at least a two second gap between you and the car in front, increase to at least four seconds in poor weather conditions.
- Avoid motorway hogging. Not only is it frustrating for other drivers, it’s not allowed as part 264 of the highway code. As a general rule, always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear.
- If you start to feel tired, make sure you take a break at a motorway service station.
- In case of emergency, here’s our guide on what to do if you breakdown on the motorway.
Is driving on a smart motorway any different?
Smart motorways have been introduced to help tackle congestion on UK motorways. They use cameras and speed signs to monitor traffic flow, and some types even allow cars to drive on the hard shoulder.
There are a few extra things you’ll need to think about on a smart motorway. Firstly, there’s no hard shoulder, you’ll need to use the Emergency Refuge Areas if you breakdown.
There’s also some differences in what the lines mean. A solid white line indicates a hard shoulder so don’t drive in this unless the overhead gantries direct you to. A broken white line indicates there’s a normal running lane.
Make sure you’re insured
If you’re learning to drive, why not get some practice outside of your lessons? Just remember you can’t drive on the motorway unless you’re with your driving instructor, but other than that you’re free to drive on any roads! With our learner insurance you can get cover to practice with a friend or family member from 2hrs up to 90 days.