Statistically speaking, motorways are safer than most other roads, however, due to the motorway speed limit of 70 mph, a single accident can have serious consequences for involved. To improve safety on motorways and ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible, there are specific rules for who, and what type of vehicles can use the motorway. The rules govern joining, leaving, stopping and overtaking on the motorway, as well guidelines for speed and maintaining lane discipline.
There are restrictions as to what type of vehicles can use the motorway. As traffic moves much quicker on these roads, certain vehicles are prohibited from using the carriageway, to ensure that the speed of the road is maintained as best as possible. The following individuals or vehicles are not allowed to travel on the motorway;
- Provisional license holders; both car and motorcycles
- Motorcycles under 50cc
- Horse riders
- Heavy vehicles with a weight of more than 7.5 tonnes
- Slow moving vehicles such as wheelchairs, mobility scooters and agricultural vehicles
Motorway traffic signals
To inform motorists of an incident, road works, lane closure or the presence of fog, signals will be used to inform drivers on the motorway of changes or an approaching hazard. The signals can be placed in either the central reservation, side of the motorway or overhead. If the signal is placed in the central reservation, it applies to all lanes.
How To Join The Motorway
Traffic on the motorway will more often than not be travelling at the national speed limit, therefore you need to take precaution when linking on to the main carriageway. You will most likely join the motorway from a slip road and as you join, you need to you give priority to vehicles already on the motorway, you must match the speed of traffic on the road and you should not cross any solid white lines as you merge. If the slip road you joined on becomes a new lane on the motorway, then you need to stay in this lane and only overtake once you have got used to the general flow of traffic.
Travelling On The Motorway
Once on the carriageway, there are specific rules that govern how you should drive on the motorway. You need to ensure you drive within the speed limit for the vehicle you are travelling in, you should keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and drive in the left-hand land at all times, except when overtaking. You are also not permitted to reverse, cross the central reservation or drive in the hard shoulder unless instructed to by a police officer, highway patrol office or signs advise otherwise. You should also plan ahead as you drive, to anticipate the actions and intentions of other road users, as the situation you face can change quite rapidly.
Ensuring everyone can use the motorway in a safe and secure way is very important and one method of promoting this is through encouraging good lane discipline. If the road is clear, always travel in the left-hand lane, however, if you need to overtake, do so in the right-hand lane before returning back to the left. Do not drive in the hard shoulder unless instructed to by a police officer, highway agency officer or signs. Finally, the following vehicles should not travel in the right-hand lane of a three-lane motorway, unless during an emergency or when given express permission to do so;
- Vehicles drawing a trailer
- Goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes but not exceeding 7.5 tonnes,
- Goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes
- Passenger vehicles with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes constructed or adapted to carry more than eight seated passengers in addition to the driver
- Passenger vehicle with a maximum laden weight not exceeding 7.5 tonnes which is constructed or adapted to carry more than eight seated passengers in addition to the driver, which is required to be fitted with a speed limiter.
Overtaking on the motorway
A large percentage of accidents that happen on the motorway occur when a vehicle is overtaking. When travelling at or close to the national speed limit, it is important you take extra precautions when passing another vehicle and there are strict rules for overtaking on the motorway. The most important rule is to only overtake when you are in the right-hand lane and it is illegal to pass a vehicle on your right-hand side and this is known as undertaking. Once you have completed the manoeuvre, if the road is clear, you must move back to the left-hand lane and you should always check your mirrors – using the MSM routine – before and after the procedure. Exercise caution when overtaking on the motorway, look out for fast moving traffic behind and check your blind spots just before you pull out, for motorcycles or vehicles that you may not have spotted.
Stopping on the motorway
Due to the speed of the traffic on the motorway, it is incredibly dangerous to stop on the carriageway and because of this, you are prohibited from stopping on the motorway at any time, unless directed to by the relevant authorities.
Leaving the motorway
Take special care when leaving the motorway. In most cases, you will exit via a slip road in the left-hand lane. When preparing to leave you are required to signal in good time and capture the lane as early as possible. Use the MSM routine when leaving the motorway and avoid late lane changes as this can lead to accidents. If the slip road you’re on has a deceleration lane, you will be made aware of its presence by motorway countdown markers. Reduce your speed when you reach a countdown marker and match your speed with the new road you’re about to join.
If you are yet to pass your driving test and are still taking driving lessons, you are not allowed to use the motorway. Once you have your driver’s license, you can book motorway driving lessons to help you prepare for this particular road type.