Recent figures indicate that around one sixth of driving in the UK takes place on motorways which include smart motorways, yet a remarkable 30% of drivers never venture out onto the nation’s fastest public roads.
It’s worth taking a refresher in the ways to keep safe and on the right side of the law. In response to the controversial smart motorways, several changes to the Highway Code have been proposed, some of which include:
- What to do if you break down.
- Stay as far left as is safe to do so.
- Using the hard shoulder or emergency refuge area.
- Lane closures and speed limit changes.
- When to drive on the hard shoulder.
Just as getting to know the features of any vehicle is vital, understanding the rules of the road and any recent changes is equally important to keep you safe. The first stage is to get onto the motorway, which is an art in itself – many entry slip roads are lengthy, giving you enough time to accelerate up to the right speed to join the traffic.
Be very aware of potential hazards both from other drivers entering around you, as well as existing motorway traffic which may not always be aware of your approach.
Once safely on the motorway, it’s vital to understand the correct use of lanes. Poor lane discipline is not only unsafe to the driver, but it puts others at risk. Stay in the left-hand lane where possible – this is not a “slow lane” and should be used for regular driving.
Use the centre lane to overtake or proceed forwards, and the outside lane should be used for overtaking only. Many vehicles are not even permitted to enter the outside lane; these include anyone driving with trailers, vehicles over 7.5 tonnes weight, and various classes driving under both private and motor trade insurance.
Safety is paramount, especially when travelling at speed. Use your mirrors often and do not be distracted by anything happening in the car. Try and maintain a sensible gap both ahead of and behind your vehicle where possible, the “two second rule” is a good mantra to adhere to when possible.
In hazardous conditions such as ice, strong winds or heavy rain it is often sensible to adjust your speed accordingly and keep a greater distance around you to allow for safe breaking if necessary.
Be very aware of signage, especially around speed and approaching hazards such as closed lanes or queues. Some motorways have “smart” sections, in which drivers may use what was traditionally the hard shoulder – be aware of any red cross signs above lanes, as driving there when marked can earn you a penalty.
In an emergency you should try and avoid stopping in an active lane, as this can cause a severe, or fatal hazard. If you have trouble, try and leave the motorway or find a safe refuge or lay-by to move into. If you do break down, finding a safe space for yourself and any auto technician or motor trade professional to work on your car is vital.
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It is also important to prepare in plenty of time when leaving the road. Do not leave it until the last second and cross multiple lanes; this is extremely dangerous to yourself and others. Get into the correct lane ahead of time and use your indicators when performing lane changes.
On smart motorways, motorists should not drive in lanes that have a red X above them unless it’s an absolute emergency. Cameras are now being used to identify drivers who ignore a red X sign. If caught driving in a lane with a red X above it, the fine is £100 and get three points on your licence.
It’s important to understand any legislation or governance in the Highway Code, especially rules 253 to 273 which spell out the regulations for motorway driving. Adherence to these will not only keep you safe but avoid accidents or penalties which may also adversely affect your insurance policy premium.