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Motorway Lane Rules: Motorway Overtaking

This guide has information clarifying motorway lane discipline and overtaking rules. For example: On a three lane motorway which lane should you normally use?

LANE RULES ON MOTORWAYS: The UK Highway Code rules 264 to 269 cover lane discipline and motorway overtaking rules.

Rule 264: Proper motorway lane rules state when the road ahead is clear, motorists should always drive in the left hand lane.

So, you should return your vehicle to the left-hand lane as soon as it is safe to do so. In most cases, it takes place after you have overtaken a number of slower-moving vehicles.

Slow-moving or speed-restricted vehicles should always remain in the left hand lane of the carriageway. Exceptions apply for motorway overtaking.

Drivers MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency. You can also use hard shoulders if the police, traffic officers in uniform, or motorway signage directs you to do so.

Rule 265: As a general rule, while driving on a motorway with 3 or more lanes, drivers MUST NOT use the right-hand lane if:

  • The vehicle is drawing a trailer.
  • You are driving a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes but not exceeding 7.5 tonnes. It applies to those required to have a speed limiter fitted.
  • You are driving a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes.
  • You are driving is a passenger vehicle with a maximum laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes. This applies to those constructed or adapted to carry more than 8 seated passengers as well as the driver.
  • Your passenger vehicle has a maximum laden weight not exceeding 7.5 tonnes and constructed or adapted to carry more than eight seated passengers in addition to the driver. This applies to those required to have a speed limiter fitted.

Motorway Lane Discipline

Rule 266: When you are approaching a junction you should look well ahead for direction signals or information signs. Signage is usually placed on motorway gantry signs over the road. If you need to change lanes, do so in good time.

An exit lane may lead directly off the motorway at some junctions. Only get in that lane if you wish to go in the direction indicated on the overhead signs.

Overtaking on Motorway

Rule 267: Drivers must ensure it is legal and safe do so, before overtaking on a motorway. You should overtake only on the right and drivers should also:

  • Carefully check all the mirrors on the vehicle (traffic may be coming up behind you at speed).
  • Take enough time to judge the vehicle speeds correctly.
  • Ensure that the lane you will be joining is clear enough ahead and behind.
  • Glance sideways into the blind spot area to verify the position of a vehicle that may have disappeared from your view in the mirror. Always make an extra lookout for motorcyclists.
  • Move out when it is safe to do so and signal in plenty of time.
  • Do not cut in on the vehicle you have overtaken.
  • Take extra care at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance on motorways.

Rule 268: UK drivers should not overtake on the left or move to a lane on their left to overtake. These motorway lane rules apply even if the traffic is moving faster in the left-hand lanes.

Sometimes traffic moves faster in the nearside lane. This happens in congested conditions where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds.

On such occasions you may keep up with the traffic in your lane. This often means passing traffic in the lane to your right. But you should not weave in and out of multiple lanes to overtake.

Motorway Hard Shoulder

Rule 269: Overtaking on the hard shoulder is not permitted and against the law in most cases. So, drivers MUST NOT use the motorway hard shoulder for overtaking.

But, hard shoulders may get used as a running lane but only in areas where an Active Traffic Management (ATM) Scheme is in force.

During these situations motorway road signs, or a speed limit sign, will show above all open lanes. As a rule the signage will include 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 motorway breakdown. As a rule, emergency refuge areas have been created in these areas for use in cases of emergencies or vehicle breakdowns.

Motorway Lane Discipline and Motorway Overtaking Rules in the United Kingdom