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'Motorway Driving'

Many people are anxious with the thought of driving at high speed on Britain’s motorways. This is understandable, especially with the greater amount of traffic now out on our roads, as well as the reckless and impatient behaviour of some drivers. However, motorway routes should be embraced as a generally direct and economical way to get from A to B, in an environment designed for relatively safe high speed driving. There will always be people opting to choose the more scenic but equally more leisurely secondary roads, or using the public transport alternative, but if you are always aware of your speed and the actions of those around you, then motorway driving remains a viable option.

From the outset, plan your journey for the motorway. As you approach, use the slip road – the ‘acceleration lane’ – to increase your speed to closer to the speed limit of the new road. It’s vitally important to look over your shoulder at the traffic on the main highway – why ? Because the slip road will be merging at an angle, and you need to cover off that blind spot to your right. Look for a gap either close to you, or behind the next set of vehicles, and time your entry on to the faster road with that gap. Only in hazardous circumstances should you slow down (eg, if the traffic beside you is moving slowly or has stopped) , you must be aiming to match your speed with that on the highway, otherwise it’s too dangerous to drive too much below the maximum speed limit.

Equally, when you are travelling on the motorway and there is traffic joining at a junction, you should generally aim to keep your speed steady so that the new traffic can judge your constant speed and join the road ahead of you or behind you – if you are alternating your speed at the intersection, then the new drivers have greater difficulty in judging when to join the motorway.

The well-known “2 second rule” for town driving can be adjusted to 4 or 5 seconds on roads above 40mph. Here, when the vehicle ahead of you passes a stationary object, you start counting slowly in seconds, and stop counting when you pass the same object : you should be a minimum of 4-5 seconds from the vehicle ahead.

More so than on conventional roads, it is imperative to be frequently checking your mirrors and looking as far ahead and as far behind as possible. At these speeds, the sooner you see a potential hazard in the distance the better, giving you more time to react and plan. Equally, seeing gaps in the traffic behind you will help you time your entry into the next lane if you have to overtake. When there is a slower vehicle ahead of you, plan your lane changing, and try and keep your momentum going. Allow for at least a minimum of three car lengths between you to give you the space and time to overtake ; likewise, making sure you can see the vehicle in your side and interior mirrors, allow for the same car lengths when you return to your lane.

You should always aim to drive in the left-hand lane, or lane one, unless signs indicate otherwise, and regard the other lanes as overtaking lanes. If there is a line of slow-moving traffic in the left lane, then position yourself in lane two until it’s clear for you to return to the left lane. A “middle lane driver” causes everyone else to rely on the right lane to overtake, or, worse, persuades others to undertake which is dangerous for being out of the ordinary and unexpected.

A good tip for maintaining your lane position is to quickly glance into the side mirrors and look for the white lane divider lines : if you can see them comfortably, then you are central to your lane. Try not to be looking over your shoulder as you drive, unless you are not completely certain as to where another vehicle is. The danger here is of pulling on the steering wheel and swerving across your lane.

If you breakdown on the motorway, pull over to the hard-shoulder as far left as possible, with your wheels pointed away from the highway. Don’t be tempted to carry out repairs, even the most simple, and instead secure the car, and walk to the nearest emergency phone booth, indicated by arrowed marker posts : these phones give precise location details, as opposed to using one’s own mobile phone. Ideally, aim to be facing the traffic flow as much as possible so as to be aware of any danger that might arise. Also, ensure that all occupants of the car are on the grass verge for their own safety. Many accidents can be compounded by vehicles on the hard-shoulder. When you rejoin the highway, ensure you increase your speed first.

When you are approaching your exit, get into lane one as soon as you can after the ‘1 mile’ distance sign. Do not reduce your speed until you are on the slip road or ’deceleration lane’, and then psychologically reduce your speed in your mind : your perceptions will have changed for high speed driving, and you might well now be in a much lower speed limit.

If you are indeed anxious about driving at high speed, then why not consider taking some refresher driving lessons ?

I hope these suggestions will inspire you !

Nathaniel Reed, of

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