Motorway signs and signals

Knowing your motorway signs and signals will make you a safer and more confident driver, so get your practise in here!

Motorway driving is mostly fast and requires a huge amount of concentration.

You have to be aware of and anticipate other vehicle’s movements. So if you can easily recognise motorway signs and signals, you’ll be in a much better position to react well when you need to.

Know your motorway signs – leading up to the motorway

On approach, the motorway signs are coloured blue and white to help distinguish them from other routes. The motorway signs may also stand alone and are bordered in white.

Actual motorway signs and signals

You should, of course, already know and be familiar with The Highway Code. In this, you will find the various different road signs associated with the motorway.

You must know what these mean, so if it has been a while since you travelled on the motorway, or, if this is your first time, then refresh your memory.

You could also get some professional assistance from a driving instructor.

The Highway Code book will also tell you about:

  • Speed limit signs – red and white mandatory speed restrictions and must be obeyed, or you will risk prosecution.
  • Black and white rectangular signs which recommend a maximum speed limit and should be observed.
  • Advanced direction signs, giving you notice of something up and coming.
  • Countdown markers – three stripes, two stripes and one stripe on posts at the side of the road, indicating the distance to the exit.
  • Leisure activities and location signs – showing the direction to museums, camping grounds, air shows, historic locations etc.

The signs are bigger than those on the ordinary roads because you have to be able to see them and act on the information in good time.

It is important that you plan your movements on the motorway because it takes more time and space to move into the required lane, in order to leave at a junction.

Junctions have their own numbers posted on the signs on approach. Often there are three signs warning you that you are approaching a junction, so you can plan your approach safely.

Warning motorway signals

There are often roadworks and lane closures on motorways.

You might find signs and signals warning of an accident, or fog or icy roads.

These might occur over the motorway lanes on overhead electric signs or at the side on the dot matrix notice boards. They may also show a reduced speed limit as in the image below.

motorway signs and signals

What to do on the approach of warning signals on a motorway:

  • Slow down to the speed limit.
  • Be prepared to slow even more as you might have to pass an accident or obstacle.
  • Watch out for the police and emergency services.
  • Keep your speed at the posted limit until you pass the sign which informs you that you have reached the end of the restricted zone. Only when you’re out of the restricted zone should you safely increase your speed to the new limit.
  • Some signs have red lights. Red in the context of driving, means danger and stop.
  • The overhead lane sign may show a red flashing light or a red X. This means that lane is closed and you must not pass.
  • Indication arrows will war you in advance when you need to change lanes due to lane closures or restictions ahead.

Start to slow down in good time and be ready to change lanes. If the red light is over an exit slip then you cannot enter and must go to the next exit.

New smart motorway driving law

The most recent new law to come into effect was in June 2019.

It applies to people who ignore the red X that appears on the gantry above lanes on a smart motorway.

Motorists could land an instant fine of £100 and 3 penalty points for driving in a lane that’s been displayed with a red X.

Cameras installed on the gantries are used to spot anyone driving in a lane with a red X and issue the fines and penalty points, so be aware!

Finally, if you need to refresh your memory, take a look at our UK road signs blog, or, check out our Teaching You Road Signs – eBook: and as it’s in an e-book format, you’ll have access anytime, anywhere on either a PC, Mac, tablet, smartphone, or on any device with an eBook reader!

Need more help to pass the Theory Test?

Then download our award-winning Driving Theory Test 4 in 1 App.

For only £4.99, you’ll be able to master all the UK’s road signs using the built-in full Highway Code, in addition to everything you could ever need to pass the complete Driving Theory Test 2020.

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