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Motorway Lanes Explained: All You Need to Know

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Motorways. For many learner drivers, the mere thought of driving on them is enough to make their palms sweaty. If you feel the same way, you’re definitely not alone – motorways can seem like daunting places, especially as they work a little differently to parkways and major A-roads.

Learner drivers have only been allowed on them since 2018, albeit in a dual control-equipped car with an approved driving instructor by their side. Before the law was changed, however, you had to have passed your practical driving test before you could venture onto them.

So, what’s all the fuss about: are motorways really much different to parkways? To help you get your head around them before you join one for the first time, we’re going to take a closer look at the lanes on a motorway and how they work.

It’s simpler than you think

You might have heard talk about so-called ‘slow lanes’ or ‘fast lanes.’ The truth is that, on a motorway or any other dual carriageway, there’s no such thing.

Most motorways have three lanes on each side of the carriageway. However, some have two (just like a parkway) and others have four (typically near to major cities). No matter the number of lanes, the lane system works in exactly the same way.

  • Lane 1: The normal driving lane for all vehicles. Unless you’re overtaking another vehicle, this is the lane you should stay in.
  • Lane 2, 3 and 4: All three of these lanes are for overtaking. When you’re ready to overtake another vehicle, move into the lane to your right and then pull back into the one you were in. Often, the first two lanes are occupied by slower-moving vehicles like trucks, coaches and vans, hence the need for lanes three and four.

You can do the speed limit in any one of the four lanes. So essentially, unless you’re overtaking, lane one is the place to be!

There are only a couple of notable exceptions to this rule:

  • On smart motorways, some lanes may be closed due to disruption (an accident or broken-down vehicle, for instance). Always pay attention to the overhead digital signs and avoid driving in any lanes marked with a red ‘X’.
  • Sometimes, motorways increase or decrease in width. For example, sometimes lane one may become a slip road, reducing the road’s width thereafter. If you want to stay on the motorway past that exit, you will have to move into lane two beforehand. This will then become lane one once you’ve passed the exit. The overhead signs should make this clear a little while in advance, giving you time to change lanes – so keep an eye out for them!

Get up to speed today

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