If you regularly drive on British motorways, you probably won’t be surprised to hear the news earlier this week that police chiefs are calling for more education on how to drive on motorways – with smart motorways in particular being an issue for drivers.
In response, vehicle management firm LeasePlan UK has revealed five top motorway myth-busters about what you can and can’t do on UK motorways.
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The company’s operations and business development director, Lesley Slater, said: “Changes to the motorway will bring new rules and regulations for motorists to learn and abide by. It is important for drivers to take responsibility for their own safety by staying up to date with any new laws introduced.
“Confusion around what is and what is not legal on the motorway is compounded by the fact that drivers are not allowed to drive on the motorway until passing their practical driving test. This is right from a driver safety perspective ,but as it isn’t mandatory to have an additional motorway driving lesson, this can lead to gaps in knowledge, confidence and experience.”
Leaseplan’s 5 motorway myth-busters
These are the top five motorway myth-busters according to Leaseplan. Are they news to you?
1: Any vehicle can drive in the right-hand lane
On a three-lane motorway, it’s against the law to drive a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight of more than 7.5 tonnes in the outside lane. The same applies to trailers – including caravans, so don’t even think about using the ‘fast’ lane to get to the campsite quicker. If you do, you could be hit with a fine of £100 and three points on your licence.
2: The left-hand lane is the lorry lane
Similarly, the inside lane of the motorway can (and should be) used by any vehicle. Worryingly, a recent survey by the AA found that nearly one in 10 young drivers described the left-hand lane as a ‘lorry lane’, only to be used by those driving HGVs. Drivers ‘hogging’ the middle or outside lane when there’s no one in the inside lane can now be hit with an on-the-spot fine.
3: There is no national speed limit on the motorway
While we’re sure no one really thinks there’s no speed limit on the motorway, it’s true that many drivers seem to think they can get away with travelling at 80 or 90mph and they’re safe from prosecution. While cameras typically stick to the ‘10% plus two’ rule (meaning they’re unlikely to issue fines for up to 79mph on motorways), traffic officers are within their rights to penalise you for driving at anything over 70mph.
You should note, too, that a lower 60mph limit applies to vehicles over 7.5 tonnes or towing a trailer (including caravans).
4: If you break down by the side of the motorway and there’s an animal in the car, you can remove it
If you have to pull over on the hard shoulder, it’s important for you and your passengers to safely leave the vehicle and stand behind the barrier on the side of the motorway. Crashes involving cars stopped on the hard shoulder are fairly common, and the damage can be devastating if a lorry takes out a broken-down car.
However, you should not remove any animals you have in the car. While many of us are attached to our pets, removing them from a vehicle at the side of the motorway is too dangerous. You don’t know how they’re going to react – they might panic and run into the road, and could potentially cause a crash. It’s safer to leave them in the car.
5: You can stop on the hard shoulder if you are ill or need the toilet
Motorists stopping on the hard shoulder rather than stopping at a motorway service station to use the facilities is still a worryingly common sight. The hard shoulder is for emergency use only – and that doesn’t include a passenger getting travel sick, needing the toilet or reading a map. Keep going until you can leave the motorway and find somewhere safe and legal to stop.
Our top motorway myths
We thought we’d add our own motorway myths to those from LeasePlan to help educate drivers. If you think we’ve missed any, let us know in the comments section below.
1: Fog lights should be used in poor visibility
The highway code states: “You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves.”
Some drivers switch their fog lights on at the slightest hint of rain, snow or mist – and forget to turn them off. They can be blinding to other drivers and even disguise your brake lights, making them more dangerous than not using them. In reality, if you can comfortably see the rear lights of the car ahead, you probably don’t need your fog lights on.
2: Traffic on motorways should move over for joining traffic
If there’s a lot of traffic heading down a slip road and you’re in the inside lane with space to move over, it might be helpful to indicate and move out to create space for people joining the motorway. Ultimately, however, it’ s up to the job of joining traffic to give way to drivers already on the motorway.
Some people are overly cautious when joining the motorway. Joining at low speeds can be very dangerous. If you’ve got a queue of traffic behind you, you could be putting other drivers in a dangerous situation. It’s easier to lose speed than gain speed, so build up your speed on the slip road then slot into traffic when you join on the motorway.
3: Lorry drivers can see everything
However many mirrors are fitted to lorries, drivers will always have blindspots. This is particularly true for drivers of left-hand-drive lorries on British motorways, who might struggle to see traffic sitting alongside them. If you’ve overtaking a lorry, spend the minimum time alongside them. Also, be careful not to change lanes into a lorry’s blindspot when they might be about to pull out to overtake a slower vehicle.
4: You should slow down for speed cameras
Average speed cameras are increasingly common along sections of sections of smart motorways. These time how long a vehicle takes to travel between cameras, and can issue fines if average speed is above the variable speed limit.
They don’t work like normal speed cameras, so slowing down when passing below gantries before speeding up again could land you with a speeding ticket. It’ll also annoy other drivers.
5: Highways Agency traffic officers can stop you for speeding
It’s a common sight: drivers sitting in line behind a Highways Agency traffic officer in a 4×4 doing 68mph because they daren’t overtake. While they might look similar to police, they have no powers to pull you over or prosecute you for speeding. They’re there to help in emergency situations – and they do have the power to stop traffic when required.