With approximately 2,173 miles of motorway network spanning the UK, it’s vital for motorists to understand the requirements for travelling these roads safely. If you’re looking to learn how best to utilise the system in a safe and legal manner, look no further – the Trust My Garage blog is here to help.
What are the motorway basics?
Motorways and dual carriageways allow traffic to travel faster and in greater safety than on ordinary roads, but it’s very important for motorists to know the rules that apply on them.
To enter, drivers use a slip road system, enabling them to filter into the existing flow of traffic already using the road, accelerating to match the traffic flow. You must give priority to traffic already on the carriageway, and not force your way into the traffic stream as this could cause other drivers to perform evasive manoeuvres, leading to an accident.
Slip roads also allow you to leave a motorway or dual carriageway, but you’ll need to be in the left-hand lane so that you can drive onto the slip road when you reach it. Move into the left-hand lane in good time to make sure you don’t have to cut in front of other vehicles or miss your exit. Motorway junctions typically have information signs at 1 mile prior to a junction and another at half a mile, to provide drivers travelling at high motorway speeds sufficient time to move to the left.
At no point – unless directed by the police, Highways England traffic officers or DVSA officers – should you stop on the motorway. If you have to slow right down or stop because there’s serious congestion ahead, you can use your hazard warning lights briefly to alert drivers behind you. Remember to turn them off when the driver behind you has slowed down.
The default speed limit on the UK’s motorway network is 70mph. However, some motorways operate as “smart motorways” or “managed motorways”, where variable speed limits and lane closures are displayed on signs on gantries above the road at regular intervals.
There are two kinds of motorway speed sign:
- If the speed limit is in a red ring, that’s a mandatory speed limit.
- If the speed limit is surrounded by flashing amber lights, it’s an advisory speed limit based on traffic and weather conditions.
To learn more about how smart motorways work, check out our blog post Driving on smart motorways – what are they and how do you use them?
What do I need to know when driving on the motorway?
Drivers should utilise the left lane wherever possible when using the motorway, and only venture to the central and right-hand lanes to overtake slower traffic before returning to the left lane after the manoeuvre is completed safely. You should never use the left-hand lane to pass a slower vehicle –known as “undertaking” – unless all lanes of traffic are moving slowly, but the left lane is moving slightly faster. Drivers should also use their indicators as normal to alert other motorists of their intention and allow them to act accordingly.
Rule 264 of the Highway Code states:
- You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear.
- If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past.
- Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking.
If you’re driving at night or in low-light conditions, the reflective studs in the road, commonly known as “cat’s eyes”, can also help you to determine the position of your vehicle on the road. Here’s what each coloured stud means:
- Red – Hard shoulder division
- Amber – Central reservation division
- White – Mid-lane division
- Green – Slip road division
Average speed cameras – what are they?
Average speed cameras have been installed over 250 miles on British roads, in areas around the country. They work by tracking the speed of your car between two points – so slowing down to go past the camera and then speeding up afterwards will not fool it!
The cameras will record your number plate when you pass the first camera, then again at the second, and perform a quick calculation based on the current time to work out how long it took you to travel between the two points. If the time it took you to travel is quicker than could be done at the speed limit, you’ll get a fine and penalty points on your licence.
The cameras can also operate across multiple lanes of traffic, so changing lanes won’t help you – only driving at or under the posted speed limit will.
The best method to avoid a speeding ticket is, of course, not to speed.
How can I make sure my vehicle is safe and roadworthy?
Prior to setting out on any journey, particularly longer trips, you should always check your vehicle for any visible issues or potential problems. Drivers should check:
- Engine oil, coolant and screen wash are within their respective required levels
- Tyre pressures and treads – Tyres should meet the legal minimum requirement of 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre in a continuous band around the whole of the tyre with no bulges, bubbles, cuts or tears, or you risk a £2500 fine and three penalty points per tyre – or worse! Tyre pressures should match the BAR/PSI indicated in your vehicle’s Owners’ Manual.
- Fuel level – Running out of fuel is one of the most common causes of breakdown on the UK’s motorway network, so check you’ve got enough fuel for your trip and take note of any available fuel stations en-route to fill up as necessary.
It’s also recommended that you check your lights and wipers to make sure they too are in working order and good condition.
If your car is due its MOT or a service, make sure to take it in to a garage to get it ready for the road. If you’re looking for a reputable, local, independent garage you can head to the Trust My Garage website and use our handy ‘Find a Garage’ map to locate your nearest TMG member, operating to a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved code of conduct.
Simply pop in your postcode and our ‘Find a Garage’ map will show you all the TMG members in your area – and you can even read reviews from other customers if you’re unsure which garage is right for your needs.
What happens if I break down on the motorway?
In the event of your vehicle developing a problem the Highway Code says to leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service area. If you can’t do so, you should pull onto the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible, with your vehicle’s wheels turned to the left.
If possible, try to stop near an emergency telephone (situated at approximately one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder).
Once you have safely pulled over, switched off the engine and removed the key from the vehicle, exit it as soon as possible. You should leave the vehicle by the passenger side door so that you’re not at risk of oncoming traffic. Make sure all passengers do the same, and that they keep well away from the carriageway.
Put the hazard lights on, and, if it’s dark, put your side lights on too. If it’s foggy, put the fog lights on if you can do so with the vehicle switched off. Generally, if you can’t see for more than 100 metres, the visibility is poor and that’s when your fog lights should be used.
The Highway Code advises that any pets travelling with you be left in the vehicle – unless you consider it to be an emergency situation. If that’s the case, take them out of the vehicle but make sure they are kept under control at all times.
You should then call for breakdown help. If you have breakdown cover and an available mobile phone, contact your provider, then try to stay calm and wait for help and support to arrive.
If you don’t have access to a mobile phone – or the battery has drained – then you need to use an emergency telephone. These are located at one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder and are easy to identify because they’re in bright orange boxes.
If you’ve broken down, you’ll need to walk to an emergency phone. Face the oncoming traffic and follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder. The emergency telephone is free of charge and connects directly to the Highways Agency or the police.
While on the phone, give as many details as you can – including your location – and inform the Highways Agency or police if you are a vulnerable motorist such as disabled, travelling alone, older, or with small children.
Your breakdown support will be able to assess if the vehicle requires towing away or if it can be repaired and can re-join the flow of traffic. If you can once again enter the road, be patient and wait for a safe gap in the traffic. If possible, use the hard shoulder to build up speed so you’re entering the carriageway with some momentum rather than slowly, with as little traffic as possible.
Don’t forget, weather in the UK can be unpredictable. If you’re planning a long journey, it is always a good idea to keep warm, weatherproof clothing in your vehicle as motorways offer little shelter from the elements. For an additional safety measure, you may also want to keep high-visibility clothing in your vehicle – wearing a hi-vis vest helps alert other drivers to your presence and could help prevent a potentially fatal accident.
Potholes are no joke when it comes to motoring in the UK, but if your vehicle is damaged due to an issue with the road surface what can you do? Trust My Garage has some handy tips for dealing with the ruin of the roads – check them out here!
If in doubt, get out
If you believe your vehicle has been damaged in any way, find a safe place to pull over and inspect the vehicle. You may want to take photos if there are any obvious areas of damage on the vehicle – and only if it is completely safe, take a photo of the pothole in question.
Vehicle problem? Solved!
If you feel there is a problem with your vehicle as a result of a pothole you can take it to your local Trust My Garage member for diagnosis, and if necessary, repair. To find your nearest member you can use our Find a Garage map, which lets you see every TMG-approved member in your area.
All Trust My Garage members operate to a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Code of Conduct, meaning you and your vehicle will get the best possible service from a business dedicated to the highest standards of skill and personal service. If you want to claim against any costs incurred, make sure to keep all invoices and receipts to send off copies when requested.
See it, say it
If there’s a pothole problem you’re concerned about, report it to the relevant authorities. Depending on where the road is changes which organisation you need to inform – here’s what you need to know:
Motorways or major A-roads
- England: Highways England – although if you hit a pothole in London, inform Transport For London (TFL)
- Wales: Trunk Road Agents
- Scotland: Transport Scotland
If the pothole is on a smaller road, it is the responsibility of the local council, so report it to them.
The .Gov website provides information on which organisation to use based on the location of the pothole in England, and you can contact your local council via their website or telephone number to report an issue.
Making a claim
If a pothole has damaged your vehicle you can make a claim to attempt to recoup the costs of any damage incurred. Most councils and highway agencies will send you a form when you report the pothole, so fill in as much detail as possible and return this along with copies of any receipts, invoices and photographs taken.
Some authorities may also ask for a copy of a valid MOT certificate for the vehicle, so be sure to have a copy of this included with your paperwork.
However: making a claim isn’t a guarantee of reimbursement. The Highways Act 1980 allows road authorities to decline claims provided they took reasonable steps to make sure the road is maintained, and potholes dealt with quickly. If your claim is thrown out you may have to utilise your insurance policy, but this could affect your no-claims bonus.
Another option is to try to prove that the body responsible for the road did not do a good enough job of road repairs. One way of doing this is to ask the road authority for details of repairs to the road that damaged your car, or do so through the Freedom of Information Act.
The latter can take 20 working days, but if you can prove that the road has been neglected it is hard for your claim to be turned down.
Keeping up with your maintenance
Whether you’ve suffered pothole damage or not it’s important to keep your vehicle in in tip-top shape. Whether you need a check-up, service, MOT or repair, you can visit your nearest Trust My Garage member and the CTSI-approved Code of Conduct our members operate to means that you’ll get the best possible service.
Across the UK this week, thousands of children are heading back to school – but when it comes to the school run, how can you ensure you’re being a safe motorist? Trust My Garage has put together some top tips for keeping yourself and others secure in the car and around other road users! Read on for more.
- Be extra observant
As a driver, if you’re near a school you’ll need to keep a watchful eye for children walking and cycling, as they might be distracted and excited.
- Choose a safe place to drop your child off
It can be tough to park near to the school, but you can aim for somewhere you won’t cause congestion and danger to those walking or cycling to school. If there are zig-zag markings on the ground outside the school, motorists are banned from parking, waiting or stopping there during school hours.
- Reduce your speed
This can be a hugely important to safety where you see lots of children – especially near to schools. If you are driving at 30mph and a child runs out your stopping distance will be at least 23 metres, so keep your speeds low and your eyes peeled for hazards! Some school areas also operate a variable 20mph limit during drop-off and collection times, which is highlighted with a flashing amber light and sign indicating the lower speed limit is being enforced.
- Plan for additional traffic on the roads
The school year comes with a substantial increase in morning and evening traffic, so drivers should allow an extra 10 or 15 minutes for their morning commute – it’s better to be early than to rush and speed when travelling to and from work.
- Look out for the lollipop!
When you see a Lollipop helper start to cross the road (usually with a brightly coloured vest and sign) come to a complete stop to allow children to cross safely. Proceed with caution once the helper has returned to the path and has lowered their sign.
- Dont use your mobile phone whilst driving
Making or receiving a call, even using a ‘hands free’ phone, can distract your attention from driving and could lead to an accident – and using a device while driving is illegal and will result in a 6-point penalty and £200 fine. If you need to make a call, pull over in a safe space, turn off your engine and remove the key from the ignition. In 2017, 14% of drivers still said it was acceptable to take a call while driving (source) but it can lead to serious injury to drivers and pedestrians.
- Be aware of buses
Buses near schools are frequent and often filled with children of all ages going to and from school. If you’re driving anywhere near a bus be on the lookout for children stepping out unexpectedly, as well as the vehicle itself moving into and out of the road at bus stops.
If you’re looking to get your vehicle checked out ready for your school run and commute you can visit your nearest Trust My Garage member! All TMG garages operate to a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) approved Code of Conduct, meaning you and your motor are set to get the best possible service.
Got any other ideas on staying safe in the car? Be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments!