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Dual carriageways:

A dual carriageway is a road with a central reservation separating traffic travelling in different directions. It is not necessarily two lanes in each direction, it could be just one lane each way. A road with 3 lanes in each direction could be a single carriageway, if there is no central reservation. An example of a single carriageway with 2 lanes in each direction is Victoria Avenue, in Southend, between Priory Park and the Blue Boar.

Slip roads:
As soon as you enter the slip road check that there is nothing parked at the end of it, where it joins the main road. Then accelerate to match your speed with the main road traffic - holding in 3rd will maximise acceleration. Keep with the kerb* and use the whole length of the slip road to reduce the angle of approach to the main road, and hence minimise your blindspot.

Using a slip road to enter a dual carriageway
Using a slip road to enter a dual carriageway.

Check your right side mirror frequently, and your blind spot at least 3 times (photo above), don’t twist your shoulders or you may swerve. Vehicles on the main road may try to move to their right to let you out. Be careful though, they may indicate right, but not be able to move because of other traffic overtaking them. Try to change your speed, by accelerating more, just before you cross the line as you enter the main road. This means that anyone hidden in your blindspot will drop back, and you will see them.

  * Entering the main road, the left hand lane of the slip road is preferred. Because using the left-hand lane means that if you cannot emerge due to heavy traffic (in an emergency) you have room on your left to manoeuvre into; without worrying about other traffic on your left.

When leaving the main dual-carriageway you may need to be careful when you indicate because of other turnings. If you indicate too early you may cause someone emerging from an earlier turning to pull-out in front of you, because they think that you are turning into it. In this situation you still need to indicate, but do it late so that your indication is not misinterpreted.

An example of this would be when leaving the A127 (London bound) at Pound Lane - if you indicate too early it may look as though you are turning into Alton Garden Centre.

Following Distance
You should normally stay about a 3 second gap behind the car in front, further if you have someone close behind you, or if the road is wet. Above 40mph you are too close if you can read the number plate of the car in front.

The biggest cause of accidents is driving too close behind another vehicle. You can't hit something if you're not close to it! A lot of drivers tailgate regularly, just because they don't realise how dangerous it is, and how long it takes to stop. Being able to see past the car in front, to see what's happening up ahead, doesn't help if the car in front brakes hard for no apparent reason (as learner drivers do sometimes!).

Keep a two second separation gap!
Keep a two second separation gap!

The Highway Code and advanced driving institutions advocate keeping two seconds away from the car in front (in dry conditions - double in the wet):

"Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule. "

However as far as we are concerned this is only adequate at speeds below 40mph, above 40mph it should be at least 3 seconds: To put this into practice wait until the car in front passes a marker, such as a signpost, then it should be 3 seconds before you get to the same marker.

On dual carriageways, and motorways, there are small blue and yellow posts every one hundred yards - this equates to your overall stopping distance at 70 mph (photo above).

The UK Highway Code quotes a 0.7 second reaction time before braking. Some countries state that up to 4 seconds is usual for the average driver, who is possibly only partially concentrating. 

How speed can kill, and keeping a safe distance back can keep you safe:
Imagine you are travelling along a fast dual-carriageway at 70mph. At a certain point in time a car is overtaking you at 100mph. You are both alongside each other for a moment. At that moment a car in front hits the crash barrier and bounces back towards you .

You, and the car next to you, go for the brakes. You manage to stop just in time in 315ft (Highway Code stopping distance at 70mph). The car that was next to you hits the obstruction at over 70mph ( stopping distance at 100mph of 600ft).

These figures actually work out - I didn't believe it until I calculated it myself - Food for thought !

Lane changing
Should be done smoothly and gradually with at least 4 flashes of the indicator before you start the move. Use the door mirror and a sideways glance to check alongside before moving. The move across lanes should be done with no discernable movement of the steering wheel, just a gentle drift. It should take about 5 seconds to complete and is usually achieved by using acceleration (except when there is slowing traffic in front of you).

In light traffic indicate when there is a gap, and try to keep ahead of any vehicle already in the lane you want.

In heavy traffic check the mirrors and indicate for what you think may be a possible gap. The best time to indicate would generally be when the car you want to come out behind of, is next to you. Then if you get a reaction from the following vehicle, you can begin your move across. If this doesn't work out, don't cancel the indicator, but leave it on, and wait to see if someone else will let you across.

If you are doubtful as the whether the car behind on your right is going to let you across - Accelerate in your lane to change position relative to the following vehicle. If you can distance yourself from them then you know it is safe to move across.

Always glance sideways before changing lanes – the blind-spot on 3 lane sections is very large and could hide a bus. Never change 2 lanes at once – always do them one at a time.

If there is a vehicle in front that you want to overtake try to be thinking far enough ahead, so that you begin your lane change before you have to adjust your speed. If you slow down you will lose your advantage over the traffic behind you, they will begin to overhaul you, and you won't be able to pull out.

Try to make sure that whenever you overtake another vehicle that you change lanes early, well before you get near to it. You don't want to be in a situation where you are within your stopping distance of the car in front, and it suddenly brakes. Always try to point past anything in front, and not at it.

When you are overtaking a row of vehicles look for closing gaps between them, this shows that they are likely to pull out (photo below):

Closing gap between vehicles being overtaken
Closing gap between vehicles being overtaken.

Try never to remain in another’s blind-spot as they may change lanes without seeing you. On three lane sections never pull into someone’s blind-spot, because they may begin to pull out as you pull in. If someone moves towards you, or might, use your horn to warn them, but don't rely on them hearing it!

Overtaking Cyclists:
When you are driving on busy dual-carriageway you will probably have streams of traffic overtaking on your right-hand side most of the time. That means it is very difficult for you to change position, and move out if you need to.

So, you must be looking as far ahead as possible, even scanning the horizon, and if you see a cyclist, be prepared to react immediately. Remember that you could be closing on them very quickly. Contrary to the usual technique of holding back, in this situation it is best to maintain your speed. This is because if you slow down everything behind will overtake you, and make it even harder to pull out.

So, assuming you have enough space, maintain your speed, check your mirrors, and signal right. Indicate to let people know what you are trying to do. Then when you have a gap on your right, accelerate, and move gently over.

Often you don't need to move fully over, but just enough to block traffic from overtaking, and to give the cyclist ahead enough clearance to pass safely. Exactly how much clearance you would give the cyclist would depend on your relative speeds, but if you were doing 70mph, and the cyclist 10mph, then you would definitely need to be in the next lane.

If you really can't get over then use the usual procedure and slow down and hold back. However if you do that you could be stuck behind them for the next 3 weeks! If you do get stuck behind them, then hold back at least 5 car lengths, so that you have room to accelerate when a suitable overtaking opportunity occurs.

Overtaking on test:
In a test situation, when you must make adequate progress: If someone is moving at well under the speed limit in front of you - overtake it as soon as possible. If you hesitate it will be more difficult.

If the vehicle is slow and just exiting a roundabout try to overtake if possible while it is accelerating. You can overtake through a roundabout if you have to. On national speed limit dual carriageways be confident driving at 70 mph when the road is clear.