Motorway Rules and Regulations

UK motorways have specific rules that differentiate to other roads. Understanding motorway rules is important both in terms of safety but to also avoid traffic offences due to the ever increasing presence of safety cameras.

The motorway rules section covers the fundamental rules of joining a motorway, motorway driving and other rules that drivers should be aware of. The motorway rules section may be of benefit to newly qualified drivers or drivers visiting the UK, or simply drivers wishing to brush-up on their knowledge of motorway driving.

Not permitted to use motorways

Motorways are not to be used by pedestrians, learner drivers (until 2018), motorbike riders who only hold a provisional driving licence or motorcycle riders of which the engine size is under 50cc. Certain slow moving vehicles or vehicles carrying over-sized loads are also not permitted without special permission. Agricultural vehicles, powered wheelchairs / scooters and horse riders are not permitted.

Under new proposals, learner drivers will be able to practice on motorways sometime during 2018. Though voluntary, learner drivers may be permitted to use motorways provided they are accompanied by an approved driving instructor (ADI) and that the training vehicle has dual controls fitted. Until a specific date has been confirmed, it is still illegal for learner drivers to drive on a motorway.

Motorway rules and regulations explained

Motorway signals controlling traffic

The high speeds of motorways requires drivers to look further ahead than usual due to less reaction time. Motorway signals are used to give drivers warning of an approaching hazard or danger such as a road accident. The motorway signals sections provides pictures of motorway signs along with a description of their meaning.

Rules for joining a motorway

Joining a motorway is usually done by the motorway slip road or from an adjoining motorway. When joining a motorway you should:

  • give priority to the traffic already on the motorway
  • look ahead at the traffic on the motorway and match their speed just before joining
  • once joined, stay in the left lane until you become accustomed to the motorway speed and traffic flow
  • not cross any solid white lines in order to join the motorway
  • not use the hard shoulder
  • stay within the slip road lane if it continues onto the motorway as a dedicated lane

Rules for driving on the motorway

Whilst driving on a motorway you should:

  • look well ahead for any approaching hazards, signs or motorway signals and act within good time
  • not exceed the motorway speed limit for your particular vehicle category
  • keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and increase the following distance depending on weather conditions. See 2 second rule for further details
  • not reverse
  • not cross the central reservation
  • not drive against the traffic flow

Motorway speed limit

The speed limit on a motorway is 70 mph / 112 kmh although this is also dependent on a particular vehicle. Speed limits on motorways can be variable. Areas of road works may impose a lower speed limit, motorway light signals may impose a lower speed limit due to various reasons such as bad weather for example. All lower speed limits must not be exceeded.

Motorway speed limits - type of vehiclemphkmh
Cars and motorcycles
To include car-derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight
Cars towing caravans or trailers
To include car-derived vans and motorcycles
Buses, coaches and minibuses
Not exceeding 12 metres in overall length
Goods vehicles
Not exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight
Goods vehicles
Exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight

* 60 mph (96 km/h) if articulated or towing a trailer.

Motorway lane rules

When the road ahead is clear, remain in the left lane. If overtaking slower vehicles, return to the left lane once you are safely past. It is prohibited to drive on the hard shoulder unless directed to do so by police, HA traffic officers in uniform or by motorway signs. Right hand lanes of motorways containing 3 or more lanes must not be used except in special arrangements if you are driving:

  • any vehicle drawing a trailer
  • a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes but not exceeding 7.5 tonnes, which is required to be fitted with a speed limiter
  • a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes
  • a passenger vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes constructed or adapted to carry more than eight seated passengers in addition to the driver
  • a passenger vehicle with a maximum laden weight not exceeding 7.5 tonnes which is constructed or adapted to carry more than eight seated passengers in addition to the driver, which is required to be fitted with a speed limiter

Motorway overtaking

Overtaking should only be conducted if it is safe and legal and should only be on the right. To correctly and safely overtake, you should:

  • check the appropriate mirrors, the blind spot and signal to allow other vehicles an indication of your intention
  • carefully and correctly judge the speed of any approaching vehicles
  • allow plenty of room from yourself and the vehicle you have overtaken before moving back over to the left
  • only overtake to the right and never to the left

For further information on the correct and safe procedure for overtaking, see:

Motorway hard shoulder

The motorway hard shoulder must not be used for stopping in, except in cases of emergency, breakdown, by enforcement officers or by motorway signals. The hard shoulder must not be driven in except in certain situations where it may be used a s a running lane. In this case, lane control signals will display a speed limit sign over all lanes including the hard shoulder.

Frequent motorway offences

  • Lane hogs

    When overtaking on a motorway, when it is clear and safe to do so, return to the left lane. Remaining in the centre lane of a motorway when the left lane is clear frustrates other drivers and generally slows down the progress of traffic.

  • Driving too close

    Driving too close to the vehicle in front is extremely dangerous due to the high speeds of motorways and little reaction time. This driving technique is typically employed by impatient drivers waiting behind a vehicle to finish overtaking. Use the 2 second rule to establish the minimum safe thinking distance.

  • Overtaking on the left or undertaking

    In certain countries it is legal to undertake, in the UK however it considered dangerous and is not permitted except in certain situations. If during times of high congestion, it is advised not to frequently change lanes to make progress, rather to stay in your lane where undertaking is permitted. On dual carriageways if a car is indicating to turn right, you are permitted to overtake the vehicle on the left.

    If during normal driving conditions, if a vehicle is found to be undertaking in a reckless or aggressive manner, a penalty of reckless driving or the more severe penalty of dangerous driving may be imposed.

  • Motorway speeding

    Very common offence, especially on motorways where lanes are wide and straight. Dangerous for reasons such as pulling out to overtake may not be able to judge a speeding vehicles speed correctly. Unmarked police cars frequent motorways along with the increase of average speed check cameras on motorways.

  • Last minute lane changing

    Frequently done by those who realise their exit junction too late. Dangerous to change lanes so quickly as it doesn’t allow for effective observation. It is recommended that you proceed to the next exit and re-take the motorway in the opposite direction to establish the correct junction.


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