Safe on the Road – Learner Drivers on Motorways

Soon, we could see learner drivers on motorways across the UK. Learner drivers are not currently permitted to drive on motorways, even in the presence of a fully qualified driver, but that could soon be about to change following a new government proposal.

If the plans are approved, the Transport Minister, Andrew Jones, says the changes will help make the roads safer.

Statistically, motorways are the safest roads to drive on, as they are designed to higher standards than other roads. They have limited access points, usually by slip roads, which reduce the likelihood of junction collisions, and separate traffic travelling in different directions, minimising head-on crashes.

A government report found that many new drivers feel scared of driving on motorways and avoid using them, travelling on back roads instead. Rural roads are statistically more dangerous than motorways, resulting in higher accidents and fatalities. The government believes that allowing learner drivers to practice driving on motorways will better prepare learners for independent driving once they pass their test.

Motorway driving can feel very different to driving on most other roads due to traffic travelling at higher speeds, a greater volume of traffic, multiple lanes, and traffic joining the motorway via slip roads. Some important things to remember when driving on a motorway are:

Looking and planning ahead

With traffic travelling at faster speeds than on other roads, there is less time to react, so it is important to look well ahead and plan what you are going to do. This means looking ahead at traffic already on the motorway and matching their speed before joining, and looking ahead for any approaching hazards, such as a slower moving vehicle, or congestion. If you see traffic joining the motorway ahead, you may need to slow down or move over to the middle lane to allow them space to merge. Plan this manoeuvre so that you have plenty of time to react and change lanes safely, checking your mirrors and blind spot beforehand.

Leaving plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front

Driving too close to the car in front of you is not only dangerous, but also illegal (known as ‘tailgating’). It is especially important to leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front on motorways due to the faster-moving traffic. Not leaving a safe distance could result in a collision if the driver in front brakes or slows down. In wet or icy conditions, when braking distances increase, you should leave a greater distance still.

Anticipating other vehicles’ movements

Anticipating what other drivers are going to do allows plenty of time to react and adjust your driving to stay safe on the roads. There are lots of signs to watch out for when driving on a motorway, such as vehicles indicating, vehicles moving within a lane before indicating, road signs which tell you about slip roads and exits, as well as traffic updates and speed restrictions.

Drive in the left lane unless you are overtaking

Motorways can have two, three, or sometimes four lanes. You should remain in the left lane unless you need to overtake slower moving traffic. On a motorway with three or more lanes, you should only use the outer lane to overtake slower moving vehicles when the left-hand and middle lanes are occupied with slower moving traffic. If you need to overtake several vehicles, then stay in the middle, or outer lane until you have passed them, before moving back to the left lane.