How to drive safely near HGVs

Large goods vehicle driver smiles through open window of cab.

Published 20 November 2023
Last updated 20 November 2023

In this blog we cover the skills you need to drive safely near heavy goods vehicles.


I’m going to start this blog with a quick question:

Do heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) make you nervous? No, I don’t mean when they’re parked up in a layby and the driver’s having their lunch. I am talking situations like driving behind an HGV on the motorway or planning to overtake one when the roads are wet.

If you answered yes to this question, then have no fear – your friends at Safe Driving for Life and The Highways Agency have some splendid tips to help you out. If you answered no, well, keep reading anyway. Staying safe on the road is a lifelong commitment, so the more you learn (and practise!) the better prepared you’ll be.

What makes HGVs different?

Unless you’re looking at them through the wrong end of a telescope (please don’t do this while you’re driving!), HGVs look very big indeed. Surprisingly enough this is because they are very big – particularly when you compare them with cars and motorcycles. While that size is great for carrying the goods that we rely on to keep the country going, it also makes them more difficult to manoeuvre and to stop quickly. If that wasn’t enough, they have large blind spots (gaps in the driver’s field of vision) that make it tricky to see immediately behind and on either side. Our colleagues at The Highways Agency have a nifty phrase for this. They describe them as ‘zones of limited visibility.’ But more on that later…

Tips for driving near HGVs and large vehicles

OK, before your teeth start chattering, here are some top safety tips to bear in mind:

  • See and be seen. That means looking around you for hazards, but it also means making sure that other vehicles can see you. For example, if you’re driving behind an HGV and the driver’s mirrors are hidden, it’s a safe bet that they can’t see you in them. These are the ‘zones of limited visibility’ I mentioned above. Now imagine that the HGV driver is forced to brake, leave their lane, or make any other kind of sudden manoeuvre. It could get nasty, so drop back to a safe distance where you can comfortably see the driver’s mirrors.
  • If you plan to pass an HGV, make sure that you have enough room to complete the overtake. You’re also going to need to give yourself some extra time, as the vehicle you’re passing will be much longer than standard cars, vans and motorcycles. At the same time, you should:

1) Target a safe space. If you try and squeeze in on the other side of the HGV and there’s no room for you, it may cause the driver to take avoiding action

2) Check your mirrors before you move out to overtake and;

3) Stay where you are if oncoming traffic will force you to return to the lane that you’ve just left. The space may have been filled by another vehicle, which makes forcing your way back in very dangerous

4) Avoid taking unnecessary risks. If the road conditions reduce the chance of making a successful overtake, be patient. It’s better to wait than put yourself and other road users in danger.

Remember: HGVs are restricted to 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways and 50mph on single carriageways (in Scotland it’s 60 mph on motorways, 50 mph on dual carriageways and 40 mph on single carriageways) – all speeds that may seem slow to car drivers. If you find yourself stuck behind an HGV and you have no clear view of the road ahead, do not be tempted to overtake. Stay patient and wait for a safe place before you look to overtake.

Managing your anxiety

OK, that’s all very well, but what happens if you feel anxious when your vehicle is near to an HGV?

Well, our brilliant book The Official DVSA Guide to Better Driving has some good strategies for beating stress and anxiety at the wheel. Have a think about the following points and try to apply them the next time you start to feel tense:

  • Try to gain something worthwhile from the drive
  • Don’t let yourself become distracted from your driving
  • Remind yourself that experience is important
  • Try to stay calm and relaxed
  • Make a special effort to look out for hazards
  • Concentrate hard on what you have to do next
  • Look on the drive as useful experience
  • Think about the benefits you get from making the journey.

Check out the goods

And there ends our brief tour of this very important topic. As always there’s plenty more to learn, and we know just the place to start!

For some brilliant free advice, fly over to National Highways and check out their ‘Driving around large vehicles and HGVs’ campaign. Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood to go deeper, we’ve got you covered, too. The Official DVSA Guide to Driving – the essential skills is packed full of guidance designed to help you stay safe on our roads. And finally, if you want to deep dive into the psychological side of driving, The Official DVSA Guide to Better Driving can help you manage anxiety, banish stress and boost your confidence. The choice is yours…!

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