Travelling on Motorways: Top tips from IAM RoadSmart

Blog post posted on 31/05/22 |

With many of us set to travel over the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, IAM RoadSmart are looking at some of the common confusions that drivers and riders face when travelling on UK motorways.

For some people motorways can be a daunting place despite being our safest roads. With this in mind Rebecca Ashton, Head of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, is providing her top tips to help you feel more comfortable when using the motorway network.

Planning your journey

When planning a journey, it’s easy to put the postcode into a sat nav and set off on your travels but doing a little preparation can really help. Having a mental map of the towns you will go through and knowing which motorway junction you will be leaving at can save time and confusion.  Always know where to get fuel if you don’t have enough to complete your journey, sometimes coming off the motorway for a break and filling your car at a non-motorway service station can be very cost effective – plus if you’re travelling with a four-legged friend then it’s a great way to let them stretch their legs.

Lane discipline 

‘Middle-lane hogging’ is the term for those vehicles who remain in the middle lane longer than necessary, even when there are no vehicles in the inside lane to overtake. Penalties to help tackle this problem were introduced in 2013 with a careless driving fixed penalty offence. Vehicles who remain in the middle lane longer than necessary, even when there are no vehicles in the inside lane to overtake, cause delays, stress, and frustration among other drivers. The Highway Code (Rule 264) states the following:

  • You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear.
  • If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past.
  • Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking.

Keeping your distance

Make sure you have enough space in front of you to be able to stop if necessary. National Highways found that tailgating is a factor for 1 in 8 crashes on our roads, and 87% of drivers had witnessed a vehicle being driven too close to the vehicle in front. Travelling too close to the vehicle in front of you can be stressful and can lead to crashes because there is not enough time and space to react to the developing situation. When travelling at speeds of over 50mph we recommend you leave slightly more than the 2 second gap you would normally leave, and for motorway travel we recommend a time gap of 3 seconds, which at 70mph is about the same as the stopping distance stated in The Highway Code.

Using the hard shoulder

Most motorways in the UK still have a continuous hard shoulder but on smart motorways, there is no hard shoulder, instead all the lanes are running lanes, this is to help ease the flow of traffic. If you are travelling on a smart motorway, you will find Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) are provided, however they can be further apart than you might think. Remember to look out for gantry and roadside signs and signals, especially the Red X which means you must not to travel any further in that lane. You can learn more about smart motorways here.


If you find yourself in an emergency whilst travelling on a motorway, you should try to exit the motorway at the next junction or service area. If this isn’t possible, move left onto the hard shoulder or nearest emergency area. To protect yourself and other road users, don’t put out a warning triangle or try to repair your vehicle yourself.

Get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle via the passenger door and if possible, make sure you are the other side of the safety barrier up on to the verge. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times.  Use the emergency phones to call for help.  National Highways are now also responding to the e-call button found in modern cars and to “what3words” if you have to use your mobile.

If your car stops unexpectedly and it isn’t safe to get out, keep your seatbelt and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately.

Rebecca said: “Always plan ahead. Make sure you check your vehicle is safe and roadworthy before you start your journey, and you have enough fuel for your journey or have planned where to refuel. We recommend you take a break from driving every 2 hours or 100 miles whichever comes first, this will help keep you alert and give you a break from the concentration levels driving requires. 

“To help protect yourself and other drivers stay within the speed limit and keep left unless you’re overtaking. Doing this will help to keep you and other road users safe, and to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.”