Motorway Driving Rules UK
Stay up to speed with motorway regulations
Many motorists use motorways, but how many drivers are up to speed with the latest rules and regulations?
In this article, we explain the rules of driving on a motorway, let you know what vehicles are not allowed on the motorway, and under what circumstances you can stop on the hard shoulder…
What are the rules for driving on a motorway?
The Highway Code states mandatory motorway rules for all road users to adhere to. As motorway traffic tends to travel at a faster speed than on other roads, generally the driver has less time to react if a problem were to occur.
Because of the heightened risks to motorists when travelling on a motorway, there are many more rules to be aware of. Rules 253 to 274 in the Highway Code are applicable to motorways and high-speed roads, which we’ve highlighted below:
Motorway signs and signals
Rules 255 to 258
Signs and signals are visible on the motorways to bring drivers attention to potential hazards, these include; accidents, fog, oil spillage, or workers in the road, to name a few examples. Warning signs will alert motorists to the problem and highlight which motorway lanes are affected by the issue.
Amber flashing lights appear on signs to warn of a hazard in the road ahead. To prepare for the hazard, motorists should immediately reduce their speed and only increase it again when they pass a sign that says ‘END’ or does not show amber flashing lights.
Red flashing lights appear on signs to warn of lane closure and will also display a large red ‘X’ to let drivers know which lane or lanes are closed. When seeing this sign, motorists must move safely into an open lane and do so until an ‘END’ sign appears.
Joining the motorway
It’s important to understand that when joining a motorway, you will either approach it from an adjoining motorway or from a slip road on the left-hand side. To safely join a motorway, motorists must:
- Always give priority to approaching traffic already travelling on the motorway
- Ensure their speed matches the flow of oncoming traffic
- Remain driving on the slip road if it continues as a lane onto the motorway
- Adjust the speed in keeping with motorway traffic before overtaking
On the motorway
Rules 260 to 263
When driving on the motorway you should continue at a steady speed within the designated speed limit and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front by using the two-second rule.
The speed limit on a motorway in the UK is 70 mph for most vehicles, dropping to 60 mph for some larger vehicles, as explained in the table below:
Motorway speed mph (km/h)
Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles
70 mph (112 km/h)
Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers
60 mph (96 km/h)
Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)
70 mph (112 km/h)
Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)
70 mph (112 km/h)
Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length)
70 mph (112 km/h)
Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length)
60 mph (96 km/h)
Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)
70 mph (112 km/h) or 60 mph (96 km/h) if an articulated lorry or towing a trailer
Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)
60 mph (96 km/h)
Driving on the motorway can become monotonous and therefore make you feel sleepy. Services are purposely placed along motorways to encourage drivers to stop and take a break. Speeding and dangerous driving is a punishable offence and can result in penalty points, fines, or even a jail term depending on the severity.
Rules to 264 to 266
There are a handful of rules to follow when it comes to lane usage on a motorway. Motorway driving etiquette states that you must:
- Stay in the left-hand lane unless you are overtaking
- Always be aware of emergency service vehicles, traffic officers, recovery road workers, and broken down vehicles that may cause you to change lane
- The right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes must not be used by vehicles pulling a trailer, goods vehicles exceeding 3.5 tonnes, or passenger vehicles with more than eight seats
- When approaching a junction, look ahead for signs and be aware of vehicles joining the motorway from the left-hand side; adjust your speed and lane where necessary
Rules 267 to 269
Overtaking on the motorway should only happen when it is safe and legal to do so. Undertaking on a motorway is strictly prohibited, so you should only ever pass by another vehicle by using the right-hand lane. When overtaking another vehicle, you should always take time to:
- Be aware of the traffic around you by checking your mirrors and blind spot
- Judge the speeds of vehicles around you
- Check the lane you’re joining has sufficient space for you to safely manoeuvre into
- Look out for motorcyclists who can appear out of nowhere very quickly
Rules 270 to 272
You should not at any point stop your vehicle on a moving lane of a motorway. If you need to stop your vehicle, use the hard shoulder or a designated emergency area if the hard shoulder is used as an extra lane. Orange SOS telephones are located along hard shoulders and emergency areas to call for help or assistance.
Leaving the motorway
Rules 273 to 274
In most instances, you’ll leave the motorway via a slip road on your left, unless a sign indicates that a lane leads directly off the motorway. It’s important to look out for the signs that make you aware you’re approaching the exit, before moving across to the left-hand lane. Always make sure you indicate in plenty of time and adjust your speed accordingly on the slip road.
Always pay attention to the speed limit when leaving the motorway, as you’ll likely be met with traffic lights or a roundabout.
What vehicles are not allowed on a motorway?
Not all vehicles and drivers are permitted to travel on a motorway. Persons, vehicles and drivers prohibited from using a motorway in the UK, include:
- Horse riders
- Holders of a provisional car licence (unless accompanied by an approved DVSA driving instructor)
- Holders of a provisional motorcycle licence
- Riders of motorcycles under 50cc
- Some types of slow-moving vehicles
- Certain types of vehicles carrying oversized loads
- Agricultural vehicles
- Powered wheelchairs
- Powered mobility scooters
When should you use the hard shoulder on a motorway?
The hard shoulder isn’t there for drivers to pull-over and stop for a snack or chat on the phone, instead, the hard shoulder should only be used in an emergency only. Quite often emergency vehicles or traffic officers will use the hard shoulder, so it is not classed as a designated stopping place.
You should only ever use the hard shoulder on a motorway as a last resort, such as a place of refuge for a broken down vehicle, or a place to wait for emergency assistance. Using a hard shoulder at any other time can result in a £100 on-the-spot fine and three points on your driving licence.
There may be instances when the hard shoulder is used as a temporary motorway lane should one or more lanes be blocked. Designated motorway signage will alert drivers accordingly if this is the case.
What is a smart motorway?
Smart motorways have been designed as an intelligent transport system to help regulate the flow of traffic and ease congestion. In the UK there are many miles of smart motorway in place which use traffic management systems to ensure consistency of traffic and manage particularly busy stretches of road. There are three different types of smart motorways in the UK, including:
All Lane Running
When an All Lane Running smart motorway is in operation, the hard shoulder is removed in favour of free-flowing traffic. In this instance, the hard shoulder is closed to vehicles and instead used as a full-flowing motorway lane in the event of an incident which leads to lane closure. As such, emergency refuge areas (ERAs) are available to drivers should they find themselves in an emergency situation.
Dynamic Hard Shoulder
In this instance, the hard shoulder is used as a motorway lane to traffic at particularly busy periods in order to ease congestion. Overhead signs will alert drivers to whether the Dynamic Hard Shoulder scheme is in force at any given time.
Controlled Motorway schemes are used to roll out variable speed limits, whereby the hard shoulder remains as an emergency stopping place. Motorway signage will display variable speed limits at any given point along the route which vary from 10 mph to 70 mph depending on the flow of traffic.
Motorway traffic and travel updates
When travelling on a motorway, always make sure you stick to the designated speed limits and adhere to motorway rules. To help make your journey smoother, why not take a look at the National Highways website for the latest travel updates so you can plan your motorway journey accordingly.
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