Can learner drivers go on the motorway? (Plus our top motorway driving tips)

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Learner driver motorway rules
Old rules
Driving near a learner
Motorway driving tips

Learning to drive can be both exciting and nerve-wracking - and lessons on the motorway can send both emotions racing.

There are special rules for learner drivers on the motorway, because of the extra speed (and potential danger) involved.

Here’s how it all works, and what you need to be aware of before hitting the motorway with a provisional licence. 👇

Learner drivers on the motorway rules

Learner drivers can drive on the motorway, providing they:

  • Are having a lesson with an approved driving instructor
  • Are driving in a dual-control vehicle
  • Place L plates on the front and rear window

You’ll only be allowed on the motorway once your instructor is satisfied that you’re competent enough to cope with the extra traffic and speed.

It’s illegal to drive on the motorway if you’re not with an instructor - say, if you’re being supervised by a friend or family member. Passengers are allowed to accompany you on other roads, but never a motorway.

You won’t have to drive on the motorway for the practical driving test, but the experience you acquire from your motorway lessons should stand you in good stead for the independent driving part of the test.

(Psst! Have a look at our driving test checklist for an in-depth idea of what to expect during your test.)

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What were the old learner driver motorway rules?

Prior to June 2018, when the law changed, drivers could only tackle motorways once they had passed their test and held a full driving licence. Instructors often recognised how daunting motorways could be and offered motorway courses as optional extras for newly qualified drivers, but the uptake was poor in many cases.

The rules changed to increase road safety, with the government acknowledging that motorway experience acquired under controlled conditions would benefit all motorway drivers.

Statistics show that during those first six months, new motorists are most at risk of being involved in an accident, and also most reluctant to drive on the motorway.

By allowing learners to have lessons in motorway driving, it helps them gain valuable skills, such as:

  • Learning how to join and leave the motorway safely
  • Learning to use the lanes correctly and overtake safely
  • Practising driving at faster speeds
  • Knowing how to handle a vehicle breakdown on a motorway
  • Increased driving experience before booking their test
  • Gain confidence for unsupervised motorway driving after passing their test
Learning to drive on the motorway is a massive achievement
Learning to drive on the motorway is a massive achievement
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What to do when driving near a learner driver on the motorway

The Highway Code contains an extensive section on motorway driving. It was recently updated to include additional rules about motorway safety and other road situations of which to be aware.

Some driving instructors remove the driving school rooftop box when giving lessons in motorway driving as the faster speeds could cause it to fall off and become a hazard. So drivers can often only recognise a learner by the compulsory L-plates front and back.

There are some common sense guidelines to consider if you’re driving near a learner driver on a motorway:

  • You should give learners plenty of room, especially when visibility and stopping distances are reduced due to rain, fog or ice
  • Remember that learners may not be as able to anticipate or respond to events around them
  • Always be patient with learner drivers - we were all learners once!
  • Make sure your signals are clear and given in plenty of time
  • Stay alert for any mistakes the learner makes, and be ready to respond accordingly
Driving on the motorway can be a little intimidating
Driving on the motorway can be a little intimidating
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General motorway driving tips

Motorways’ fast-moving traffic and busy lanes make accidents more likely than on A-roads, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your motorway driving skills.

Here’s our top tips for driving on motorways:

Joining and leaving the motorway

Always prioritise vehicles already on the motorway when joining, and be aware that some slip roads become the left lane. If this is the case, remain in lane until safely on the motorway.

Make sure you know when your exit is approaching, and be aware of your speed - after cruising along at 70 mph, slowing down can be deceptive, with the vehicle travelling faster than you think it is. Move safely across to the left lane in plenty of time to take your exit.

Making proper use of the lanes

In general, motorways have three lanes:

  • Lane 1 - the left, or inside, lane is for normal driving
  • Lane 2 - the middle lane is for overtaking
  • Lane 3 - the right, or outside, lane is also for overtaking

The ideas of a ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ lane are incorrect, and sitting in the middle lane is an offence unless you’re overtaking traffic. It’s difficult for others to overtake you and encourages undertaking, which is also an offence.

If a slip road is merging with the motorway, you’re permitted to move across from the left lane to ensure the joining traffic has enough room.

Overtaking

Only overtake when it is safe (remember: mirror, signal, mirror, manoeuvre) and legal to do so, returning to the left lane when you can. Never undertake vehicles, except if all the lanes are moving slowly, but traffic in your lane is moving a little faster.

Boredom and taking breaks

Driving long distances on the motorway can become very tedious - the monotonous miles of tarmac can induce a hypnotised feeling - so it’s essential to take plenty of breaks. According to the Highway Code, you should have a break of a minimum of 15 minutes for every two hours of driving.

If you start getting tired, open the windows for some fresh air until you either reach the motorway services or can leave the motorway and continue your journey cross country for a while. This allows your eyes to relax from staring straight ahead before you rejoin the motorway.

Make sure you’re insured!

Okay, this isn’t really a motorway tip - but it’s still one of the most important things about driving, whatever road you’re on. Cuvva has policies from just one hour up to rolling monthly cover. You can get a quote in minutes.

Updated on 3rd April 2023