Driving safely on Scotland's major roads

Knowing the rules and being prepared is essential on these roads.

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  • Motorway rules

  • Awareness is key

  • Safety tips

  • Trunk roads

We can all help to keep our motorways and major roads safe

Driving on a motorway takes a lot of concentration and awareness.

It also helps to have a good knowledge of the Highway Code.

Keeping some simple advice in mind can help to reduce the chance of making a dangerous mistake.

What you need to know

  • There are specific rules for driving on motorways
  • Pedestrians and some vehicles are not allowed on motorways
  • It’s important to know all aspects of driving on a motorway
  • Including what happens if you breakdown
  • It’s good to be aware of other types of major roads

Essentials for driving on the motorway

The thought of motorway driving can be quite daunting – especially if you’re a new driver. However, this type of road is actually one of the safest in the country.

The main thing to remember is that motorways have different rules. For starters, they’re not allowed to be used by:

  • Pedestrians
  • Holders of a provisional car licence, unless accompanied by an approved driving instructor with dual controls
  • Holders of a provisional motorcycle licence
  • Riders of motorcycles under 50cc
  • Cyclists and horse riders
  • Some slow-moving and agricultural vehicles
  • Vehicles carrying oversized loads, except by special permission
  • Powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters

Using the right-hand lane

If a motorway has three or more lanes, other than in exceptional circumstances, the right hand lane can’t normally be used if you’re driving:

  • A vehicle pulling a trailer
  • A goods vehicle weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, but under 7.5 tonnes, which is fitted with a speed limiter
  • A goods vehicle that weighs more than 7.5 tonnes
  • A passenger vehicle that weighs under 7.5 tonnes, which is fitted with a speed limiter and can carry eight seated passengers plus the driver
  • A passenger vehicle that weighs more than 7.5 tonnes and can carry more than eight seated passengers plus the driver

Things you should NEVER do on a motorway:

  • Reverse along any part of a motorway, including:
    • Slip roads
    • Hard shoulders
    • Emergency areas
    • Across the central reservation
  • Drive against the flow of traffic
  • Use the hard shoulder, unless it’s an emergency

Remember, if you miss your exit, or take the wrong route, you must carry on to the next exit to turn around.

How to join a motorway

You’ll normally approach a motorway from a road on the left – a slip road. Or, sometimes directly from another motorway.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Give priority to traffic already on the motorway
  • Match your speed to merge safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane
  • Stay on the slip road if it continues as an extra lane on the motorway
  • Keep in the left-hand lane long enough to adjust to the traffic speed before you overtake
  • Remember not to cross the solid white lines that separate lanes, or to use the hard shoulder

How to drive on a motorway


On the motorway, the speed limit is usually 70 mph (unless towing), however you should drive within the limit at a speed that you – and your vehicle – can handle safely. On some Smart motorways, maximum speed limits can change to suit traffic conditions.

Lane choice

Always keep to the left lane – as the other lanes are just for overtaking. There are no ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ lanes on a motorway, so after overtaking you should safely return to the left lane.

Stopped vehicles

The likes of emergency services, traffic officers and recovery workers could be stopped on the hard shoulder, or in an emergency area. If you’re in the left lane, you should safely move into the lane on the right, to give the stopped vehicle more space.

Motorway signs

Standard motorway signs are blue. There are also signs above the road with messages about delays or congestion. A red X displayed above your lane means the lane is closed and you need to safely exit the lane.

Take a break

Tiredness kills and increases your risk of crashing. So always take a break if you need one – for at least 15 minutes. You should never drive for more than two hours at a stretch.

How to leave a motorway

It’s always best to plan well ahead. Make sure you know which junction you need to take to leave. Unless signs tell you otherwise, you’ll normally leave the motorway by a slip road on your left.

You should:

  • Watch for the signs letting you know you’re approaching your exit
  • Safely move into the left-hand lane well before reaching the exit
  • Signal left in plenty of time and slow down on the slip road


…when you leave the motorway your speed may be higher than you think. Keep an eye on it and slow down if need be (which might well be the case, as some slip roads have sharp bends).

What to do if you break down on the motorway

If you break down on the motorway you need to follow some simple tips to help you stay safe:

  • Move onto the hard shoulder and turn on your hazard warning lights
  • Get out your vehicle using the doors nearest to the verge and keep well away from the traffic
  • Lock all doors except the passenger door nearest to you
  • Call for assistance using an emergency phone, which will be on the hard shoulder:
    • Marker posts every 100 metres show the location of the nearest phone
    • Phones are 1,000 metres apart
  • Never cross the carriageway, or a slip road, to use an emergency phone
  • When you get back to your vehicle, wait on the grass verge (or nearby bank) well away from the traffic, until the emergency services arrive

Other major roads

Major A class roads – also known as trunk roads – can be single or dual carriageways. These are still fast moving major roads, but they are different from motorways.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re driving on them:

  • Most types of vehicles are allowed to use these roads, so you’ll find a range of slower and faster moving vehicles, from tractors to motorbikes
  • Vehicles can cross over and stop on these roads. There may even be bus stops at certain points
  • There might be no street lighting, so driving at night could be difficult. Lower visibility can make judging the speed and distance of other vehicles hard
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