Whether you call it a highway, motorway or autobahn, driving on multiple lane roads can cause even the most serene of people to break out in a sweat. The standard of driving that can be witnessed on these roads can make you question whether there are any qualified drivers left! Motorways are designed to ensure that large volumes of traffic can efficiently move at high speeds, and yet often it is the driving skills of their users that limit their efficiency.
If you regularly listen to Sally Traffic on Radio 2, you will become familiar with the accident hotspots on our motorway networks. Why do the same stretches of motorway repeatedly get a mention? The M6 junctions between 17 and 21 are almost guaranteed to have a snarl up - the road undulates which may cause vehicles to unwittingly speed up beyond drivers' control - but this is the point isn't it - the driver's control!
Statistically, motorways and highways are the safest types of road, the consequences of poor driving skills on our motorways and highways are serious – fatal accidents occur regularly, and life-changing injuries even more so. So how can you drive safer on these fast roads? The first step is to familiarise yourself with the Highway Code, sections 253-273 refer to motorway driving.
How to Drive Safely on The Motorways
Joining the Motorway
When you are joining the motorway from the slip road you should aim to match the speed of the cars that you are joining. This can be tricky to gauge, but you should be able to access the motorway without there being a big differential between your speed and the speed of the vehicles that are sandwiching between. By matching the speed of the other traffic, you can join the carriage without making other vehicles brake, which causes a snowballing effect of cars braking behind you and that results in avoidable traffic jams. The cars that are already on the motorway should accommodate you.
Distance Between Vehicles
Driving on the motorway is at a faster speed than other roads, and so the stopping distance that is required is greater too. The stopping distance is the distance it takes for your vehicle to come to a complete stop once you’ve hit the brakes, but you also need to allow for the time it takes you to react to a situation. In heavy traffic it can be tempting to change lanes and undercut other vehicles by undertaking in the nearside lanes, especially when a lorry has left the gap; however, the lorry has left a gap to ensure that it has an adequate stopping distance, and by moving into this space you are driving dangerously.
A good rule of thumb is to leave a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you in fast-moving traffic. If you continuously have to brake, that is a sign that you are driving too close to the vehicle in front.
A great mistake that we make when talking about motorways is to refer to the outer lanes as being for slow and fast travel. These are not slow or fast lanes. The first lane is what you should aim to journey on, and the others? They are overtaking lanes. It is a great source of irritation to other drivers when people hog the lanes; when you have overtaken a car, move back to the correct lane. The only reason to remain in the overtaking lanes is when you are overtaking several slower vehicles. If you remain in the overtaking lane unnecessarily you will be delaying the traffic that is behind you.
Speed: too Fast or too Slow
The speed that you travel on the motorway can have serious implications on your travel safety and that of other road users. Safe motorway driving depends on people driving at similar speeds, if you are driving too fast, other drivers are unable to anticipate where your position is likely to be within a time frame. Driving too fast can also mean that you don’t allow yourself enough time to react to situations as they develop. Conversely, driving too slow on a motorway can also cause safety issues. If you or the vehicle that you drive are not comfortable or capable of driving safely at speed, you should not be driving on the motorway.
There are often speed restrictions on the motorway, and while the signs may say 50, it is not your job to sit in the outer lanes at 50 to control the speed of the traffic – this is a source of great frustration for drivers and can result in tailgating as drivers lose patience. Every driver is an adult, and if they do not wish to adhere to speed limits that is their choice – you should be mindful of lane hogging even in restricted speed zones.
While motorway driving means that all cars are going in the same direction, you need to pay as much attention to what is happening behind you as in front. Your mirrors are perhaps the most important feature of your car for motorway driving. Every time you join a motorway or change lane, you must use your mirrors to help you navigate. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and that means paying attention to the blind spot of your mirrors too. Remember, the length of a car can be hidden in these spots but you can add additional mirrors to reduce the blind spots.
Use your indicators when overtaking to show the other drivers what your intentions are. Get into the habit of using them even if the carriageway is clear, there is never any time that you should manoeuvre without using them. You need to help other drivers be aware of your movements.
You may have passed your driving test many moons ago and consider yourself a safe driver, but with experience can come a relaxation of the standards that had to be met to get your driving licence. Do you think that you still drive with the same care and attention that you used to?
Which stretches of motorway do you notice that accidents keep happening on, and what do you think could be done to improve road safety? Why do you think it happens? Is it because there are more cars on the road than the motorways were originally designed for, and the volume of traffic that is mainly to blame? Or is it purely the carelessness of the drivers?