How to survive your first time on a motorway
Passing your driving test is one thing. Driving for the first time on a motorway is quite another. Even experienced drivers can get the heebie-jeebies when confronted with a fast-flowing motorway, with three lanes of fast-moving traffic, juggernaut lorries and light-flashing maniacs charging down the outside lane. So how much more of a hair-raising experience is motorway driving for someone who has not long ditched the L-plates?
There’s the over-taking, the under-taking the blind spots, the signs, the sudden jams... But there are plenty of tips to stay safe, and keep calm. Perhaps the most important is to remember that a motorway is not just like any other road, only faster. It’s a completely different environment, with its own rules, characteristics and nuances. As such, it requires different reactions and demands different responses. The only way to learn these is by tackling the challenge head on (that’s the wrong expression, but you get my drift), which means you have to take things steady, have your wits about you and prepare yourself with information and advice.
Nice & steady
If possible, don’t undertake your first ever motorway drive solo. An experienced passenger can make all the difference in terms of guiding you through the process and calming your nerves. So, when first getting onto the motorway, make full use of the sliproad. Put your indicator on and wait for a decent gap in the traffic. Try to be decisive, and make sure you manoeuvre smoothly and steadily. Once another driver knows what you are doing, chances are he or she will allow you to enter. Hesitation and jerking to and fro will only cause confusion.
Stick to the first lane until you get used to the speed. If the road is wet or visibility is poor, drive slowly, and this will also reduce nerves in difficult conditions. Don’t worry about annoying others around you – safety first! Another tip is the ‘two-second rule’. So on a dry road and in good conditions, leave at least a two second gap between you and the vehicle in front – or more in poor weather. Some UK motorways have reinforced this by using chevrons. This means that, for example, if a car suddenly slams on the breaks, you have the time and space to stop too.
Use your mirrors to keep abreast of what’s happening around you – and indicate when you’re changing lanes to tell other drivers your next move. But remember to check your ‘blind spot’ (over your right shoulder) when doing so – your mirrors won’t give you a 360-degree perspective. Most importantly, keep your wits about you at all times.
The good news is that, statistically, motorways are safer than dual carriageways and most other types of road. Every driver is going in the same direction, at similar speeds, and there are no sharp bends, roundabouts, pedestrians or cyclists to deal with. Yet you’d be surprised at some people’s stupidity. So prepare for the unexpected - this may sound like common sense, but you are not allowed to reverse, or cross the central reservation on motorways.
On my first motorway trip I faced a gang of joy riders driving in the wrong direction. That was enough to keep me in the slow lane for several years! If you breakdown on the motorway, pull onto the hard shoulder as far to the left as you can with your wheels turned to the left. Put on your car hazard lights to warn other motorists, and if visibility is poor, leave your side lights on. Then get out of your vehicle on the left hand side, and move passengers as far away from moving traffic as possible.
Your life expectancy on a busy motorway hard shoulder is approximately 12 minutes. It’s not a place to linger. Never set foot on the carriageway unless you have absolutely no alternative. If you have breakdown cover included on your insurance policy, now is the time to use this – or the time to regret not buying it!