Motorway Driving Survival Guide

This article is written as a follow on from a previous article:Bank Holiday Weekend continued (rant)

I used to love driving, I still do to a certain extent, I took many different styles of driving tests and driven in places on this planet you wouldn’t believe. But one thing always rings in the deep recesses of my brain, and these are the words of a former instructor; “There are two things in this world that will get an instant angry responce, 1. Tell someone they’re bad in bed and 2. tell someone they’re a bad driver – the irony being that these two things are true for everyone”. Today, we all use a little too much pride while driving, but then if you owned a Formula 1 car – would this make a Formula 1 driver?  This is an interesting point, especially to the 4 wheel drive owners out there. But I don’t know it all, I learn something new every single time I drive and I’m sure some people may well argue on one or two points I have written about here. However, experience has proved these correct, time, and time again.

So, about me; I gained my HGV 1 license many years ago, I have driven a car for a similar length of time and so know and understand many of the arguments between car and truck drivers. I was also lucky enough to be the second person to ever qualify as an instructor by Land Rover and also completed the ADI course.
So here are the real rules of the road when traveling on the motorways of the UK with accompanying facts…

The world of the truck driver

Truck drivers are NOT there to spoil your day, ask and THEY WILL HELP YOU.  A truck driver knows that any contact with a car often proves fatal for it’s occupants – they have no wish to hurt you.

One of the biggest problems for trucks and cars is that the world they each occupy travels at a different speed

In a car, the world is moving on average at 80mph and by observing the gradient of the motorway and types of vehicles up ahead you will easily be forewarned of what will happen 1 or 2 miles ahead.

On the other hand trucks rarely exceed 56 mph unless they’re going down hill, or they look like the ones in this photo.

Often what is perceived as a truck pulling out in front of you is about the relative speeds of the car and truck, understanding this will cause much less stress and arguments.

As a ‘for instance’ of this – a truck often indicates two or three times longer than a car would do, because cars are approaching much faster than the truck is moving.  So, often what appears as a truck pulling out, is actually about your 80mph world colliding with the trucks 56mph world.  One that is obviously slower, and often means indicating for far longer.

The second and third lanes are over-taking lanes and if a truck needs to overtake and has been signalling for a while, he will assume that the moment the third lane is clear for a car to move into from the second, it will – so please keep a check on the third lane and move over when you can.

Because truck speeds only vary by the odd mph, over taking may appear slow, but in a truck it actually appears quite fast.

Always flash a truck, bus or caravan in when they overtake you – ie once their rear end has passed you, (you may have to do this more than once as the driver is also looking forward as well as checking his mirrors) they will then pull straight in and will flick their indicators Left, Right and Left to say thank you.
Never flash your hazard lights to say thank you. Leave hazard lights for hazards.

Here’s an interesting one

Signal, mirrors, manoeuvre…. Yes you read that right!

Let the world know what you want to do, then check if it’s safe for you to do so.  Other drivers will see that you want to come in or out and will change their speed or lane for you to do so.  Doing it this way around allows for the time it takes for other drivers to see and respond.  Never just pull out (obviously).

Unlike the 30 and 40 mph urban areas, on motorways the average car covers 117 feet per second (80mph) – doing the traditional method of Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre can prove dangerous because as you’re approaching the object you’re trying to overtake, your concentration becomes diverted wholly to your mirrors, the next thing you know is that you’re almost colliding with the vehicle in front – yet you’ve not even let traffic know you wanted to pull out… You then slam your brakes on, the car behind does the same and the ripple effect will actually cause a traffic jam a few minutes later – the type you go through and sit there wondering how on earth that was caused.
When joining a motorway, be prepared to either slow down (it is actually a give-way) or accelerate to match the speed of the first lane traffic – which ever you do – DO NOT HESSITATE in your actions.

If the worst happens………..


If you need to call emergency services, police etc. As part of the global Universal Service Directive: Dial 112 – no need to worry if you’re in the US, Europe, UK, even Hong Kong – 112 will connect you!!

If you breakdown on the motorway, it is important you know about ‘mile markers’. These have a specific number on them that lets emergency and breakdown services know exactly where you are. They’re spaced every 100 or 200 metres and they are being replaced by these signs. 

Even if you have a minor ‘bump’, move to the hard shoulder! the amount of times I see the motorways held up because someone had a bumb in the 3rd lane and the drivers stop there to sort it all out.  Unless there are injuries, MOVE TO THE HARD SHOULDER!!!!! or you can be arrested and/or held liable for missed timed delieveries.

Number 1 cause of death and injury on the motorway is being hit on the hard shoulder!

You of course know you should not sit in the vehicle on the hard shoulder, but where do you stand?
You stand in a place that, if your vehicle were to be hit, it won’t be shunted into you.  If there is a barrier – get on the far side of it away from the traffic  and never sit down! you may well need to suddenly run if there is an accident. Remember to ALWAYS ,ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry as many Hi-Viz vests in your car as you have seats.  This will be law soon, but you’ll surprised how many people are killed on the hard-shoulder at night (a mix of both orange and yellow are best).

Just because your car is new does not mean it will not break down, I’d say [based on my observations driving up and down the motorway] on average breakdowns are 50/50 between old and new cars.

Number 1 cause of death and injury on the motorway is being hit on the hard shoulder!

Vehicle fires; get your car completely on to the hard shoulder or further if possible, get out! And get far away from the vehicle!!

Car fires start with very little warning, again it’s just as likely to happen to a new car as it will to an old car. They spread quickly, very quickly and in many cases you have less than a minute to stop and evacuate the vehicle.

There are many things that can cause a car fire but here are a few things you should know. A car battery can expload for no apparent reason.  A petrol tank can also expload all on it’s own.  One sure way to get a fire is if you have air conditioning and don’t use it very much. If the air conditioning clutch wears out, it can generate over 2000 oC in less than a minute.  If you have Air Con USE IT every few days no matter what time of year to heat or cool your car. This way the ‘o’ring seals remain lubricated and parts remain servicable.

Last year I had to bring the M5 to a standstill – the reason was that the car a Mercedes estate had caught fire, the driver was partially in the first lane and on top of that – the driver was trying to get belongings out of the boot of the car, right on top of the fuel tank.
Obviously, in the case of an accident where fire is involved, carry a good sized fire extinguisher as the ability to fight a fire could be the difference between life and death – not a silly little thing they offer at the main dealers, a big one from Halfords.

Escape from an up turned vehicle, if anyone reading this has tried to you’ll know that getting your seat belt off is not easy. It takes the same strength as your entire body weight to push the release button in!!!!
So if you don’t wear a Leatherman tool like myself, you MUST have a combined Belt Cutter and Glass Hammer tool in the car, get one and attach it where you will need it – to the ceiling!

If your car ever ends up in water – DO NOT wait for the car to fill in the vain hope that the equal pressure will allow the doors to open – IT WONT… break the windows (with your glass hammer) and get out.

General Hints and tips
The minimum speed for cars travelling on the motorway is 52mph – DO NOT drive slower than this, you can and will be prosecuted for it. The highest ‘slow’ speed a car driver has been prosecuted for is 50mph!

For a truck it is 48mph unless it has a warning/escort vehicle covered in flashing lights with it.

ABS will NOT stop you quicker on a hot dry day, it may well increase your stopping distance – ABS is designed to allow you to manoeuvre a vehicle while maximum breaking and stop you quickly in poor conditions.

Keep your thumbs out of the steering wheel, power steering works both ways, and the last thing you want is broken thumbs if you hit an obstruction.

Hired a 7.5ton box van for moving home? you’re not allowed in the 3rd lane and you must use a Tachograph as every kilometre of the vehicle has to be accounted for to VOSA. We are now using digital tacho cards and these you have to purchase from the DVLA for £38.

Caravans and tent  trailers need to replace their tyres every two years to minimise the possibility of blowouts. This is a very serious issue indeed and will bring our motorways to a grinding halt many times this year. Basically the tyre on trailers only ever reach operating temperature a few times a year which will lead to the tyres drying out and cracking.
On trucks, we often replace tyres every 4 to 6 months and at a cost of £500 each, it’s an expensive business.

For people towing ANY TYPE of trailer;

If you’re trailer/caravan starts to sway or snake SLOW DOWN because you’ve entered the most dangerous phase of towing.  For years people have joked about this, but it is the one single thing you can not accelerate out of.  There are many causes  for this from aerodynamics to 1/4 Psi difference in the tire pressures.

What happens is that often the swaying trailer will do one of two things, it will suddenly swerve in an exaggerated way and flip both car and trailer over OR it will suddenly stop swaying and transfer that effect to the car – again, it will flip you over quickly.

These are the reasons that ALL towing vehicles are limited to 40 mph on A roads, 50 mph on dual carriageways and 60 mph on motorways.

A cars towing capacity is a design after thought, few if not any are designed to tow anything.

Something about night driving…
On a normal car you have four lighting modes
Side Lights
Main Beam (sometimes referred to as dipped)
Full Beam – for removing the retinas of on coming traffic
Fog Lights – switch them off when you don’t need them!

Main Beam casts light down and to the verge, where as Full beam casts high intensity light forward and up. This means that when you approach a truck from the rear (even 800 yards away) you are completely blinding the driver!
And for all those people who drive down their side of the motorway with full beam on thinking oncoming traffic cant see it – well in a truck we can!! And I’ve nearly hit the central reservation because I was so blinded by an oncoming motorist.
The moment you can see those little lights on the top of a truck – you’re blinding the driver – not when you see his/her headlights.
Please, do not do this.
Oh and just you know, we don’t want to drive at 40mph on all A roads slowing you all down, as some roads are suitable for far greater speeds – it’s just that the law is 40mph and trucks are a little conspicuous…………..
Air Bags..
Air Bags can and will kill… An air bag is an EXPLOSIVE DEVICE that detonates, forcing the airbag at you at 240mph!! If you find through your own personal height that you have to sit right up to the steering wheel, then you have the wrong car, get another one. If the bag hits you before it fully inflates – you are taking the full force of it’s detonation.
You must be sitting a safe distance away from the wheel for these things to work properly, even then, they will hurt you – but save your life. So if you don’t want break your neck, arms or have your chest opened up – make sure you fit your car and your car fits you – this saves you having to wipe your nose… off the dashboard, or worse – the rear parcel shelf.
In conclusion;
Tyres, Brakes and lights are the most important parts of your vehicle on any road.
Fit  a combined Belt Cutter and Glass Hammer tool to the ceiling in your car
Carry Hi-Viz
Give trucks more space than you think they need- allow for the different speeds you are both travelling
Always ‘flash in’ large overtaking vehicles.

Please remember;

No one has any more rights than anyone else on the motorway, accidents do and will always sadly happen.
All the rules in the world will not prevent that millisecond when it all goes wrong, it’s horrific, it’s terrifying and very, very deadly – but it’s real.

Caravans in Motorway services areas

If you’re at a motorway services and parked in the Truck area PLEASE TAKE NOTE:
These areas are for the legal requirement for Truck/Bus Driver rest periods, they do not have an option in this – they must stop there at given times. They may well enter the area with less than a minute of time left and as such maybe moving at speed!! When the time is up the truck/bus has to stop where it is by law and can not be moved except by Police/VOSA permission, so do please think about where you park.
Even if it is a Saturday or Sunday, this is an area for the movements of trucks upto 70 tons in weight – DO NOT LET CHILDREN RUN AROUND IN THESE AREAS. I know kids can’t wait to get out of the car when you stop but there are NO SECOND CHANCES with running into the path of a truck. The last thing a driver expects to see is a child in a truck park.

Here are some examples of when it does go wrong- please note; A 44ton truck moving at 56mph coming to a dead stop has an impact force of approximately 1100 tons.

Starting with a test vid.

Now for real….

Finally, if you think you’re a good driver and non of this will ever happen to you or anyone in your car – then watch this video.


Please, be careful.



Published on 21 March, 2008 at 05:39  Comments (17)  

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  1. WKD I forgot to mention, when I said contribute, I kinda meant – would you like to add to the main article itself.


  2. Spelling and punctation, not too bad!!
    On the matter of overtaking and when to do a flash for a wink, wink, wink. The overtaker should put n/s indicator on when they have passed the overtakee to show, I am now looking in my n/s mirror please may I pull in, then wait for the flash, if they are on the phone, rolling up, brewing up or doing thier make-up this will not apply. hope this makes sense.


  3. I understand what you mean.


  4. I’m just pondering here, on how that could be implemented/educated…
    I so need need to take this blog ‘pro’ – then I’d simply make a video of this.


  5. Some drivers seem to understand it, but many put on indicator and think you are being ignorant by not flashing, then pull in right in front of you.


  6. So l stay away from those type of jobs. ,


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