During your driving lessons you can drive with your instructor on twisty country lanes, congested city centre roads, quiet residential streets and busy dual carriageways. But until you have taken and passed your practical driving test driving on the motorway is illegal.
Which is probably why so many learner drivers and new drivers are nervous about the idea of driving on the motorway for the first time. In actual fact 2pass.co.uk says that they have little to worry about: “Motorways are safer, than normal roads…there are no sharp bends, no oncoming traffic, no right turn, and no roundabouts. The lanes are always wide, and well marked, and are usually straight for long distances.”
SmartDriving.co.uk also has some words of reassurance: “Motorways are designed to help you get your destination as quickly and safely as possible.” But because they are much faster they require a lot of concentration due to any changes in traffic occurring quicker than they would on roads a new driver might be more used to.
There are lots of things you can do to make yourself feel more prepared to go on the motorway for the first time. As always make sure your vehicle is in good condition for a long journey. A long journey will put you and your car to the test, so both need to be ready. Make sure you are well rested so you can keep up a good level of alertness. You should also make sure you have familiarised yourself with the route so you are aware of any exit numbers or diversions you might need to take.
Just as when you join dual carriageways you can join motorways via slip roads, roundabouts or even from a dual carriageway. Remember it is important to build up your speed quickly and if you are joining from a slip road signal right to alert drivers that you are joining the motorway. You will also need to check all of your mirrors, for people following behind you and to check in your right mirror, as well as quickly glancing over your shoulder, so you know it is still safe for you to enter.
Once you are on the motorway you need to stay alert not just to other drivers on the road but to the electronic signal systems that are used to warn motorists of any accidents or traffic jams ahead. As usual keep to the left hand lane unless you are overtaking, unless otherwise road signs tell you otherwise.
Keep a good amount of space between you and other vehicles on the road, this means you have time to check your mirrors and signal to make others aware of any manoeuvre you might plan to make. It is recommended that you leave 2 chevrons between you and the next car.
This is a question of good judgement and no different from overtaking on the dual carriageway. Leave enough space from the vehicle you intend to overtake to both give them a chance to see you and you a chance to speed up once you have begun the manoeuvre. Be sure to alert other drivers of your intention by signalling in good time and don’t forget to cancel your signal once you are in the next lane so as not to confuse other drivers. Once you are at a safe distance from the vehicle you overtook signal that you intend to move back into their lane.
You will most likely leave the motorway via a slip road. If you have prepared yourself you will know when to start looking for your slip road by checking for the exit number, this is on the bottom left-hand corner of the direction signs in a black square with white numbers. When you see the second sign indicating that your exit is coming up you should move into the left hand lane (if you aren’t already in it) and look out for the countdown markers.
You can indicate to show your fellow motorway users of your intention to leave the motorway once you have passed the first marker and then be sure to check you speedometer and use the deceleration lane. Some slip roads can have bends and if you have been driving at high speed for a long time it can take a while to get used to a slower speed.
You can also book a lesson with your instructor after your test so you can go on the motorway and learn more about the complex system in a familiar car with dual control.