Driving in the correct position on the road is important for safety and helps traffic flow freely. In Great Britain, you should normally keep to the left side of the road.
Make sure you don’t
- drive too close to the kerb, especially where there are pedestrians
- weave in and out between parked cars.
You mustn’t drive
- on the pavement
- on the hard shoulder of a motorway
- on a cycle or bus lane when it’s in operation.
Keep scanning the road ahead of you to see when you might need to change your position in the road, such as when there are roadworks or cars parked at the side of the road. Make sure you move in good time so road users behind you can see what you’re doing and that they may need to change their position too.
When you need to change your road position, use the MSM/PSL routine to check
- ahead of you for road users coming towards you
- your mirrors and blind spots for vehicles behind or beside you.
Your position on the road can be affected by factors such as weather, road and traffic conditions.
In some places, lanes are marked on the road to help guide traffic and to make best use of the road space. Lane discipline means using the correct lane for where you’re going and following the lane markings. This helps to avoid congestion and keeps traffic flowing safely, especially where traffic is heavy.
Make sure you move into the correct lane in good time. If you find you’re in the wrong lane and you don’t have time to change lane safely, carry on in your lane and find another way back to your route.
If you’re overtaking another vehicle, you’ll need to move to the other side of the road: because this puts you in a position where vehicles are driving towards you, you must be sure that the road ahead is clear enough for you to overtake and get back to the correct side of the road safely.
It’s really important to only overtake in a place that’s safe and legal. Never overtake
- if your view ahead is blocked
- if other drivers might not be able to see you
- if there’s too little room
- if the road narrows
- if you’re approaching a junction
- if there’s ‘dead ground’ – a dip in the road that could hide an oncoming vehicle.
See The Highway Code for rules and advice on overtaking.
To drive safely around a bend, you must look well ahead and decide
- how sharp the bend is
- at what speed you need to be travelling so you can drive around it under control.
There are various ways to judge how sharp a bend is, including
- looking at what you can see of the bend
- taking notice of road signs before the bend
- using ‘limit point analysis’: ask your driving instructor to explain this to you if you don’t know this method.
When you’re deciding on the line you should take and the best speed for a bend, you’ll also need to think about factors such as
- adverse camber – where the road slopes downwards towards the outside of the corner; this makes it harder for the tyres to grip the road in the corner
- banking – where the road slopes upwards towards the outside of the bend, making it easier for the tyres to grip the road
- uneven or slippery surfaces
- weather conditions, which can affect the amount of grip the tyres have on the road
- visibility – how much you can see of the road ahead
- road junctions – if vehicles are emerging from a junction or slowing down to turn, you’ll have to be ready and able to slow down
- other road users who may be travelling around the bend at a different speed to you
- the performance and handling of your vehicle: different vehicles will handle differently through bends.
You’ll need to use the gears, accelerator, brakes and steering in the correct combination to drive around a bend safely and responsibly.
- Use the footbrake to control your speed as you approach a bend.
- Choose the correct gear for your speed.
- Use the accelerator carefully.
- Steer to hold the correct line through the bend.
If you’re carrying passengers or loads in your vehicle, you might find your vehicle handles differently through bends. See Carrying passengers and loads for more information.
Different rules apply to different junctions: make sure you know the rules, especially about who has priority, for using
- T-junctions (where a minor road joins a major road)
- Y-junctions (where a minor road joins a major road at an angle)
- staggered junctions (where roads join from the left and right so the path from one side road to another isn’t a straight line)
If you’re unsure of the rules, take a look at The Official DSA Guide to Driving – the essential skills and The Highway Code.
The Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine
Always use the MSM/PSL routine at junctions.
- Mirrors: check in your mirrors to work out the speed and position of vehicles behind.
- Signal: signal clearly and in good time.
- Manoeuvre: use the PSL routine.
- Position your vehicle correctly and in good time.
- Speed: adjust it as necessary.
- Look for other traffic.
When you’re turning left, use the MSM/PSL routine as you approach the junction. Position your car about 1 metre (3 feet) from the kerb. Slow down and choose the correct gear.
Watch out for
- vehicles parking or parked just before a left-hand junction or parked just around the corner
- vehicles approaching in the side road
- pedestrians already crossing the road – they have priority
- cyclists coming up on your left.
When you’re turning right, use the MSM/PSL routine as you approach the junction. Move as close to the centre of the road as is safe so vehicles can pass on your left if there’s room.
Watch out for
- oncoming traffic, especially motorbikes and bicycles
- vehicles overtaking oncoming traffic
- vehicles waiting to emerge from the minor road
- pedestrians already crossing the road – they have priority
- anything that could stop you entering the minor road safely, leaving you on the wrong side of the road.
Remember that other road users may use a different road position to you, especially
- drivers of large vehicles, who may need to move across the road so they can turn their vehicle, eg moving to the left before turning right
- vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders, who may signal to turn right at a junction or roundabout but stay on the left-hand side of the road for safety.
Emerging into a road
If you’re joining a road from a junction, you’ll need to judge the speed and distance of any traffic on the road.
You may not be able to see much of the road until you actually get to the junction. You’ll then need to look carefully, remembering that your view might be blocked by buildings, hedges, bends, other vehicles or the weather.
Only emerge when you can safely join the road: you may need to wait some time for a suitable gap.
If you’re crossing the path of approaching traffic to turn right into a major road, you’ll need to wait for a gap in both the oncoming traffic and the traffic you’re joining.
When you’ve emerged,
- check behind for the speed and position of other traffic
- accelerate so your speed is correct for the road and conditions
- keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front
- make sure that your indicator is cancelled.
Whenever you’re approaching a pedestrian, train or tram crossing, be prepared to stop. If you do have to stop, check the road around you and use the Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre routine to stop safely.
Although there are several different types of pedestrian crossing, some rules and advice apply to all of them.
- You mustn’t park on a pedestrian crossing or on the zigzag lines near it.
- Don’t overtake near a crossing.
- Keep crossings clear when queuing in traffic.
- If either side of the crossing is blocked by queuing traffic, look out for pedestrians crossing between these vehicles.
- Allow pedestrians plenty of time to cross.
Check The Highway Code for more details of the rules that apply to pedestrian crossings.
Warning lights make it easier for road users to see pedestrian crossings. Watch out for these so you’re ready to stop if necessary.
- Zebra crossings have flashing yellow beacons on both sides of the road and black and white stripes on the crossing.
- Pelican crossings have traffic lights: when the flashing amber light shows, you must give way to pedestrians on the crossing; if it’s clear you can drive on.
- Puffin crossings have traffic lights but they also have a device to detect when pedestrians are on the crossing and delay the green light until the pedestrians have crossed.
Train and tram crossings
A level crossing is where the road crosses a railway or tramway line.
- drive onto the crossing unless the road is clear on the other side
- drive over it ‘nose to tail’ in case the vehicle in front breaks down
- stop on or just after the crossing
- park close to the crossing.
If there are lights, you must obey the signals. A steady amber light followed by twin flashing red lights warn that a train or tram is approaching.
Don’t move onto the crossing after the lights show: stop behind the white line on the road. If you’re on the crossing when the amber light comes on, keep going – don’t stop on the crossing.
Wait until the lights turn off and the barriers open (if the crossing has barriers) before driving over the crossing. If the lights stay on after a train or tram has passed, it means there’s another one approaching.
Check The Highway Code for more details of the rules that apply to level crossings.
Motorways and dual carriageways allow traffic to travel faster and in greater safety than on ordinary roads, but it’s vital to know the rules that apply on them.
Joining a motorway or dual carriageway
Slip roads allow you to join a motorway or dual carriageway.
- Use the slip road to accelerate until your speed matches that of the traffic on the motorway.
- Check there’s a suitable gap in the left-hand lane.
- Use the Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre/Position – Speed – Look (MSM/PSL) routine before you merge onto the motorway.
- You must give priority to traffic already on the motorway: don’t force your way into the traffic stream.
- Avoid stopping at the end of the slip road unless you’re queuing to join slow-moving traffic.
Leaving a motorway or dual carriageway
Slip roads also allow you to leave a motorway or dual carriageway. You’ll need to be in the left-hand lane so that you can drive onto the slip road when you reach it. Move into the left-hand lane in good time to make sure you don’t have to cut in front of other vehicles or miss your exit.
Road signs and markers will help to warn you when you’re approaching your exit: use these to get into the correct position.
If you’ve been driving at motorway speeds for some time, when you leave the motorway your judgement of speed is likely to be affected: 40 or 45 mph will feel more like 20 mph. Check your speedometer and make sure you adjust your speed for whatever is on the road ahead of you.
Stopping on a motorway
You mustn’t stop on a motorway unless
- red lights or other signs or signals tell you to
- you’re asked to stop by the police, Highways Agency traffic officers or Vehicle and Operator Services Agency officers
- it’s an emergency
- it will prevent an accident.
- stop to pick up or set down anyone on any part of the motorway, including a slip road
- walk on the motorway, except in an emergency.
Only use the hard shoulder in an emergency, eg if your car breaks down.
If you have to slow right down or stop because there’s serious congestion ahead, you can use your hazard warning lights briefly to alert drivers behind you. Remember to turn them off when the driver behind you has slowed down.
You should normally drive in the left-hand lane: avoid changing lanes unnecessarily.
The central reservation is there to separate the traffic flowing in different directions. Never drive across the central reservation or drive against the flow of traffic on a motorway or dual carriageway unless you’re directed to do so by an authorised person or traffic signs, eg in roadworks.
Active traffic management (ATM, also called ‘managed motorways’) is used on some stretches of motorway to change speed limits or the direction of flow in particular lanes: make sure you obey any instructions given by these systems.
When you’re driving towards a junction, it’s important to scan well ahead to make sure that you’re aware of
- other road users joining or leaving the motorway: you may need to change lanes, if you can do so safely, to keep travelling at a steady speed
- queuing traffic.
Rules for driving on motorways and dual carriageways
Check The Highway Code for more details of the rules that apply to motorways and dual carriageways.
Road signs, markings and signals are there to help you drive safely and to keep traffic flowing. It’s vital that you understand what the different signals, signs and markings mean and what to do when you see them.
- Circular signs tell you what you must or mustn’t do.
- Warning signs are red and usually triangular.
- Road markings give information, orders or warnings.
Look at The Official Highway Code and Know Your Traffic Signs for details of all the signs and markings.
The speed limit is shown on a circular sign. Where no speed limit is shown, the national speed limits apply. These vary depending on the type of road on which you’re driving.
Check how much you know about road signs using our road signs quiz.
Signals can be used by police officers, crossing patrols and other people who are authorised to control traffic such as Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and Highways Agency traffic officers. Make sure you know what these signals mean and what to do when you see them. The Highway Code contains a guide to these signals.