A handy guide to motorway driving in 2018

Variable speed limits, no hard shoulder, and lane closures are just some of the technological controls on smart motorways

The warmer weather and upcoming school holidays mean one thing – road trip season is upon us. Whether you’re heading out on a day trip or planning a family holiday to the coast, you’re probably going to encounter motorways.

Here’s a helpful guide to driving on motorways in 2018…

Age-old rules for motorway driving

Whether you’re driving on a smart motorway, or one that uses good old road signs, there are some rules of the road that you must always follow:

  • Unless you’re overtaking, always keep left
  • Return to the left-hand lane after overtaking
  • Always indicate before changing lanes
  • Check your mirrors frequently – vehicles travelling at speed on a motorway can creep up quicker than you think so don’t assume you know what’s on the road without checking first
  • Watch out for variable speed limits and stick to them
  • When approaching trucks and large vehicles take extra care and remember – if you can’t see the driver, then they can’t see you
  • Take regular breaks to keep yourself alert and make sure you’re not too tired to be in control
  • Only use the hard shoulder for emergencies
  • Be aware of your stopping distances – for instance, when travelling at 50mph in dry conditions you’ll need around 53 metres, or 13 car lengths. However, if you’re travelling at 70mph then your stopping distance is significantly more, and you’ll need 96 metres or 24 car lengths.

Driving on a smart motorway

Since the introduction of smart motorways in 2006, the technological highways have been growing in number as a way of increasing road capacity. They do this by using the hard shoulder as a fourth, or even fifth lane.

These motorways use technology to actively manage traffic flow, monitoring traffic and changing lane signs and speed limits from a regional traffic control centre.

Since March this year, driving in a closed lane on a smart motorway is illegal. The lanes are being monitored by cameras and those caught flouting the laws will receive a fixed penalty notice.

Here are some rules on smart lanes to help you avoid a fine…

  • Never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”
  • Don’t drive in a lane showing a solid white line – indicating a hard shoulder
  • Keep to the variable speed limits shown on the gantries above the lanes
  • If you break down, put on your hazards and never get out of your car
  • If there is no hard shoulder, use one of the lay-bys, known as Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs), where possible
  • Should your vehicle start experiencing a problem, for instance, if a warning light comes on, be sure to exit the smart motorway immediately
  • A broken white line indicates a normal running lane

Think you’re following the rules of the road? Here are some motoring laws you could be breaking every day.


  1. IMUENTINYAN says:

    Thanks for the information

  2. D singh says:

    Good tips

  3. Julie Swinburne says:

    Interesting and useful advice about driving on Smart motorways. A question though: what if you can’t get a refuge area or get off the motorway? I have heard recordings of 999 calls from stranded vehicles with the occupants inside, being hit by another vehicle. Surely this is extremely dangerous and potentially lethal. The advice to remain in your car no matter what, sounds insane and unsafe. The ‘smart’ may refer to the technology but it does not refer to motorists’ safety. I have heard that the police and organisations like AA and RAC are not happy about this.

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