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The Highway Code

Department for Transport
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Motorways (253 to 273)

The Highway Code rules for motorways, including rules for motorway signals, joining the motorway, driving on the motorway, lane discipline, overtaking, stopping and leaving the motorway.

Many other Rules apply to motorway driving, either wholly or in part: Rules 46, 57, 83 to 126, 130 to 134 , 139, 144, 146 to 151, 160, 161, 219, 221 to 222, 225, 226 to 237, 274 to 278, 280 and 281 to 290.

General (rules 253 to 254)

Rule 253

Prohibited vehicles. Motorways MUST NOT be used by pedestrians, holders of provisional motorcycle or car licences, riders of motorcycles under 50 cc, cyclists, horse riders, certain slow-moving vehicles and those carrying oversized loads (except by special permission), agricultural vehicles, and powered wheelchairs/powered mobility scooters (see Rules 36 to 46 inclusive)

Laws HA 1980 sects 16 & 17, & sch 4, MT(E&W)R regs 3(d), 4 & 11, MT(E&W)(A)R, R(S)A sects 7, 8 & sch 3, RTRA sects 17(2) & (3), & MT(S)R reg 10

Rule 254

Traffic on motorways usually travels faster than on other roads, so you have less time to react. It is especially important to use your mirrors earlier and look much further ahead than you would on other roads.

Motorway signals (rules 255 to 258)

Rule 255

Motorway signals (see ‘Light signals controlling traffic’) are used to warn you of a danger ahead. For example, there may be an incident, fog, a spillage or road workers on the carriageway which you may not immediately be able to see.

Rule 256

Signals situated on the central reservation apply to all lanes. On very busy stretches, signals may be overhead with a separate signal for each lane.

Rule 257

Amber flashing lights. These warn of a hazard ahead. The signal may show a temporary maximum speed limit, lanes that are closed or a message such as ‘Fog’. Adjust your speed and look out for the danger until you pass a signal which is not flashing or one that gives the ‘All clear’ sign and you are sure it is safe to increase your speed.

Rule 258

Red flashing lights. If red lights on the overhead signals flash above your lane and a red ‘X’ is showing, you MUST NOT go beyond the signal in that lane. If red lights flash on a signal in the central reservation or at the side of the road, you MUST NOT go beyond the signal in any lane.

Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 38

Joining the motorway (rule 259)

Rule 259

Joining the motorway. When you join the motorway you will normally approach it from a road on the left (a slip road) or from an adjoining motorway. You should

  • give priority to traffic already on the motorway
  • check the traffic on the motorway and match your speed to fit safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane
  • not cross solid white lines that separate lanes or use the hard shoulder
  • stay on the slip road if it continues as an extra lane on the motorway
  • remain in the left-hand lane long enough to adjust to the speed of traffic before considering overtaking.

On the motorway (rules 260 to 263)

Rule 260

When you can see well ahead and the road conditions are good, you should

  • drive at a steady cruising speed which you and your vehicle can handle safely and is within the speed limit (see the Speed limits table)
  • keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and increase the gap on wet or icy roads, or in fog (see Rules 126 and 235).

Rule 261

You MUST NOT exceed 70 mph (112 km/h), or the maximum speed limit permitted for your vehicle (see Speed limits table). If a lower speed limit is in force, either permanently or temporarily, at road works for example, you MUST NOT exceed the lower limit. On some motorways, mandatory motorway signals (which display the speed within a red ring) are used to vary the maximum speed limit to improve traffic flow. You MUST NOT exceed this speed limit.

Law RTRA sects 17, 86, 89 & sch 6

Rule 262

The monotony of driving on a motorway can make you feel sleepy. To minimise the risk, follow the advice in Rule 91.

Rule 263

You MUST NOT reverse, cross the central reservation, or drive against the traffic flow. If you have missed your exit, or have taken the wrong route, carry on to the next exit.

Laws MT(E&W)R regs 6, 8 & 10 & MT(S)R regs 4, 5, 7 & 9

Lane discipline (rules 264 to 266)

Rule 264

You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking a number of slower-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past. Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left-hand lane of the carriageway unless overtaking. You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform or by signs.

Laws MT(E&W)R regs 5, 9 & 16(1)(a), MT(S)R regs 4, 8 & 14(1)(a), and RTA 1988, sects 35 & 186, as amended by TMA 2004 sect 6

Rule 265

The right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes MUST NOT be used (except in prescribed circumstances) 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.

Laws MT(E&W)R reg 12, MT(E&W)AR (2004), MT(S)R reg 11 & MT(S)AR (2004)

Rule 266

Approaching a junction. Look well ahead for signals or signs. Direction signs may be placed over the road. If you need to change lanes, do so in good time. At some junctions a lane may lead directly off the motorway. Only get in that lane if you wish to go in the direction indicated on the overhead signs.

Overtaking (rules 267 to 269)

Rule 267

Do not overtake unless you are sure it is safe and legal to do so. Overtake only on the right. You should

  • check your mirrors
  • take time to judge the speeds correctly
  • make sure that the lane you will be joining is sufficiently clear ahead and behind
  • take a quick sideways glance into the blind spot area to verify the position of a vehicle that may have disappeared from your view in the mirror
  • remember that traffic may be coming up behind you very quickly. Check all your mirrors carefully. Look out for motorcyclists. When it is safe to do so, signal in plenty of time, then move out
  • ensure you do not cut in on the vehicle you have overtaken
  • be especially careful at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance.

Rule 268

Do not overtake on the left or move to a lane on your left to overtake. In congested conditions, where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds, traffic in left-hand lanes may sometimes be moving faster than traffic to the right. In these conditions you may keep up with the traffic in your lane even if this means passing traffic in the lane to your right. Do not weave in and out of lanes to overtake.

Rule 269

Hard shoulder. You MUST NOT use the hard shoulder for overtaking. In areas where an Active Traffic Management (ATM) Scheme is in force, the hard shoulder may be used as a running lane. You will know when you can use this because a speed limit sign will be shown above all open lanes, including the hard shoulder. A red cross or blank sign above the hard shoulder means that you MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or breakdown. Emergency refuge areas have also been built into these areas for use in cases of emergency or breakdown.

Laws MT(E&W)R regs 5, 5A & 9 , MT(S)R regs 4 & 8

Rule 269: Overhead gantry showing red cross over hard shoulder

Rule 269: Overhead gantry showing red cross over hard shoulder

Stopping (rules 270 to 271)

Rule 270

You MUST NOT stop on the carriageway, hard shoulder, slip road, central reservation or verge except in an emergency, or when told to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform, an emergency sign or by flashing red light signals. Do not stop on the hard shoulder to either make or receive mobile phone calls.

Laws MT(E&W)R regs 5A, 7, 9, 10 & 16, MT(S)R regs 6(1), 8, 9 & 14, PRA 2002 sect 41 & sched 5(8), & RTA 1988 sects 35 & 163 as amended by TMA 2004, sect 6

Rule 271

You MUST NOT pick up or set down anyone, or walk on a motorway, except in an emergency.

Laws RTRA sect 17 & MT(E&W)R reg 15

Leaving the motorway (rules 272 to 273)

Rule 272

Unless signs indicate that a lane leads directly off the motorway, you will normally leave the motorway by a slip road on your left. You should

  • watch for the signs letting you know you are getting near your exit
  • move into the left-hand lane well before reaching your exit
  • signal left in good time and reduce your speed on the slip road as necessary.

Rule 273

On leaving the motorway or using a link road between motorways, your speed may be higher than you realise - 50 mph may feel like 30 mph. Check your speedometer and adjust your speed accordingly. Some slip-roads and link roads have sharp bends, so you will need to slow down.