Driving Hints and Tips
Motorway services alert
While it’s tempting to relax as soon as you’ve entered a motorway services, bear in mind that they can have unintuitive traffic layouts, with some areas intended for trucks or coaches only. Keep a close eye out for road markings and signs, drive with caution and trust your instincts if in doubt. Tired drivers, wayward children and baffling priority arrangements have the potential to make your break anything but welcome.
Think like a lorry driver
You may have noticed the regularity with which lorry drivers flash each other. This practice is for courtesy and safety: when one lorry overtakes another, the driver being passed flashes the faster truck to let them know there’s enough room for them to pull back into their original lane – something that’s hard to determine from the cab of an articulated truck. While it’s fair to say that if car drivers were to adopt this habit, the M25 would resemble a strobe-lit disco, showing other motorists a little extra consideration will only make your journey easier.
Over the line
Many drivers mistakenly think that it’s legal to break the speed limit to safely overtake another motorist. But this common misconception is against the law and you could face a fine and penalty points. Under Rule 163 of the Highway Code, drivers should only overtake when it’s safe and legal to do so. Although it advises you to move quickly past the vehicle in front when overtaking, the Highway Code also states the speed limit is the ‘absolute maximum and does not mean that it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of conditions’. In short, the speed limit is the speed limit, full stop. Overtaking is no excuse for speeding, and remember, never overtake if you have to cross double white lines or with a solid line nearest to you,
It’s entirely normal to feel apprehensive about heading on to a dual carriageway or motorway with 70mph speed limits, especially as there’s no requirement to navigate them during your driving lessons or practical driving test. But increasingly, young and new drivers are taking advantage of the June 2018 law change which allows you to take motorway lessons before passing your test. Providing you’re accompanied by an approved instructor you can now get a taste of motorway driving in England, Scotland and Wales. Many learners find this helps boost their overall ability and confidence behind the wheel. Courses such as Pass Plus remain a popular option if you’ve just passed your test and want to get some accompanied experience on major roads before setting off alone.
Minimum speed limits
These are rare in the UK, but they do exist in places where going too slowly can cause congestion or high risk of an incident, such as in tunnels. They’re marked by a blue circular sign containing the minimum speed limit. At the end of a minimum speed limit you will see the same sign with a red line through it. Although there isn’t an official minimum speed limit on most motorways, travelling too slowly is considered dangerous. In the eyes of the law driving too slowly is deemed ‘careless driving’ and a hazard to those who are following the speed limit maximum and could be prompted into reckless overtaking. As a rule of thumb, you should use the maximum speed limits as a guideline. If you don’t stray too far below this, you won’t put others at risk or break the law.
Focus after dark
When travelling at night, new drivers in particular should keep an eye on their speed. As visibility deteriorates, you’ll need to reduce your speed to give yourself extra time to respond. As a learner, you’ll probably tend to stare at oncoming headlights and feel dazzled. With practice, you will learn to turn your gaze away from oncoming high beams and instead look to the left-hand side of the road and follow the white line marking the edge (if there is one) to keep track of your position. If the glare is so bad that you can’t see anything, slow down but don’t stop completely as this could cause a car travelling behind to run into the back of you.
Variable speed limits
Fixed speed limits are the most common kind of speed limit, usually identified by a number within a red circle on road signs entering the speed limited area. However, variable speed limits are increasingly being used on ‘smart motorways’. These motorways monitor traffic flow and can make adjustments to reduce congestion when required – for example, by operating the hard shoulder as a live traffic lane, or introducing a temporary speed limit when there’s a traffic build up, roadworks or stranded vehicle. This variable speed limit is clearly displayed on the gantries across the motorway, and is usually enforced by average speed cameras behind the signs. Bear in mind that the maximum speeding fine on a motorway is £2,500.
On the sunny side
Drivers who don’t wear sunglasses to protect against the dazzling effects of the sun may be inadvertently putting the safety of all roads users at risk. The consequences of not driving safely due to being blinded by the sun – whether it’s as a result of not wearing sunglasses, not using a vehicle’s sun visor or not slowing down are severe. You could be deemed to be driving without due care and attention and face an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points on your licence. The advice, according to Rule 237 of the Highway Code, is to slow down or pull over if you become ‘dazzled by bright sunlight’. This means that, although it’s not a legal requirement to drive wearing sunglasses in bright conditions, you could be breaking the law if you don’t slow down or stop if you become temporarily blinded by the sun. When it comes to choosing sunglasses, it’s essential you pick the right pair as some hamper driving. In the UK, sunglasses are normally labelled with a category, so avoid category four glasses which are illegal, and should be marked ‘not suitable for driving and road use’. Also avoid variable tint lenses behind the wheel.
Hold your horses
If you are approaching a horse from behind, hold back while gathering enough information to pass safely. Do not get any closer than three car lengths and be careful not to creep into this space. Be prepared to slow down further or even stop to protect this space as horses can react and move incredibly quickly. Again, make sure you give the horse enough space when passing. Best advice is at least a car’s width and make sure this is done slowly, at no more than 15mph. When you see riders two abreast it is usually for safety reasons, an inexperienced rider or a nervous animal being coached along by a more experienced companion. This is a good opportunity to share road space safely and use the information around you. Road signs, horses in fields, horse muck on the road or signs to an equestrian centre are all clues to help you anticipate meeting riders on the road – and when you do, ‘wide and slow’ is the mantra.
If you are caught flashing your car’s headlights to warn other motorists about a mobile speed trap or upcoming camera you could face a large fine. Some drivers may think they’re doing you a good turn, but according to rule 110 of the Highway Code: ‘Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.’ By flashing a warning, you could also be breaking the law according to the Police Act of 1996, by obstructing an officer in the course of their duties. Motorists caught breaking this law can be fined up to £1,000. According to research by Confused.com around one in six drivers in the UK are unsure this is an offence, don’t be one of them.