Dual Carriageways & Motorways
For some, this is the moment they have feared since day one. With a little forward planning and gamesmanship you can enter the motoring arteries of the country with confidence.
On the whole, dual carriageways and multi-lane highways are just like motorways, but with more hazards. One moment they can be big, three-lane carriageways that looks like a motorway, and the next moment they can run into a roundabout, traffic light or a central reservation with a horse on it. Some even have public footpaths running across them.
The signpost is king when it comes to getting the jump on potential hotspots. When visible, carriageways are lined with reflective studs that should point you in the right direction. White studs mark the middle of the road or the lane dividers, red studs mark the outer edge, amber the inner, with green for lay-bys and slip roads.
Motorways are by far the safest roads. Less than 6% of fatalities occur here. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that teaching motorway driving ranks lower with driving instructors than spending an afternoon with an incontinent student after a ferocious tandoori. It isn’t even covered by the driving test.
Consequently, new drivers are terrified of the safest roads in the country and avoid them as much as possible. They shouldn’t, because motorway driving is simple and, despite the high speed and volume of traffic hammering up and down the motorway, it is by far the safest way to get from A to B.
I follow some basic rules to keep myself clear of trouble on motorways and find the game of high-speed chess curiously satisfying. About half of motorway inhabitants play this game, and you can communicate with them on a quasi Masonic handshake level. The other half are physically present but mentally abstaining. These people typically languish in the middle lane.
The first rule is to stretch your eye muscles and prepare to look much further forward towards the horizon. Your mental radar needs to become a 360-degree scanner, which means actively revolving your observation from side to side, forward and back using your mirrors constantly.
You need to think several moves ahead, and concentration must be continuous to monitor the ever-changing flow of traffic. Motorways are gloriously suited to their purpose, with wide lanes and one-way flow. The slower traffic is meant to stay in lane one with overtaking taking place in lanes two and three.
British adherence to these rules has lost some of its lustre in recent years. The masters of lane discipline are currently to be found in Germany, where middle-lane hoggers are summarily shot at the roadside.
Motorway speeds are higher than other roads, but the traffic flows at relatively slow speeds to one another. The speed differential, the delta, between lanes might be less than 5 mph, but when the music stops, or if someone cuts in front of you, then relative speeds can change quickly.
Rather than reacting to slowing traffic, the trick is to anticipate change well before it happens and create an opportunity with enough space to handle it. Using this fluid map of your surroundings means you can pick your moments to pass other vehicles without being cut off, while staying out of the way of those overtaking you.
Nearly one in every ten cars that stops in the hard shoulder is involved in a collision. Only stop here if you’re in dire straits, not for picnics. The hard shoulder is a kill zone. You are stationary, while everything around you is moving at high speed. Park as far to the left as possible, turn the front tyres to the left, get everyone out of the left side of the car and move away from it.
By observing certain physical features you can effectively predict changes in traffic flow. The on and off ramps are prime examples of where you can expect ‘displacement’ from traffic joining or departing the highway. The resulting compression of vehicles in lane one causes a knock-on effect that you can see coming a mile away.
Displacement is the buzz-word that covers every scenario where a vehicle is likely to change speed or course. Your ability to predict how displacement might affect your progress will define your driving.
When you join the motorway, you want to create as little effect on the surrounding traffic as possible. Your blind spot is accentuated by your angle of approach on the slip road. This is a problem that is easily, though seldom, overcome by leaning forward and rotating your noggin like an owl so you can look at what you’re driving into. Combine this with mirror, signal and move into lane one with all the confidence of John Wayne striding into a saloon full of rednecks.