Driving School Ireland,
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Section 11:

Motorways and Tunnels

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Motorways are roads that help reduce journey times by separating traffic and removing road junctions. They are probably the safest way of moving large volumes of traffic, mainly because they remove the risk of head-on collision. However, compared with other types of road, they carry a greater risk of pileups.

This section covers the rules on who can drive on a motorway, the meaning of motorway signs and how to join, leave and overtake safely.

General Rules

The signs below appear as you are about to enter or join a motorway. The sign on the left shows that the following must not enter a motorway:

Motorway signs
Motorway Ahead

Motorway signs
Motorway Ahead

Motorway signs
Entry of Motorway

  • people who do not hold a full driving licence for the category of vehicle they drive,
  • vehicles incapable of a speed of at least 50km/h,
  • vehicles with an engine capacity of 50cc. or less,
  • people driving on 'L' plates,
  • invalid-carriages,
  • vehicles that do not use inflated tyres,
  • cyclists,
  • pedestrians, and
  • animals.

Joining the motorway

When entering the motorway, exercise care and attention, and yield to traffic on the motorway. You must follow the steps below when joining a motorway.

  • Use the acceleration lane to build up your speed before merging into traffic on the motorway.
  • Signal early to other motorists that you intend to merge.
  • As you approach on the slip road, check in your mirrors and your blind spot for a safe gap in traffic in the left-hand lane of the motorway.
  • Obey road signs and road markings.
  • Do not drive on hatch markings before merging into traffic on the motorway.
  • Give way to traffic already on the motorway.
  • Adjust your speed as you join the motorway so you match, as near as possible, the general speed of traffic in that lane.
  • Treat each lane change as a seperate manoeuvre. Stay in the left-hand lane long enough to adjust to the speed of traffic before attempting to overtake.

On the Motorway

  • You must only drive ahead. No turning or reversing is permitted.
  • You must progress at a speed and in a way that avoids interference with other motorway traffic.
  • You must not drive on any part of the motorway that is not a carriageway; for example a hard shoulder, except in case of emergency.
  • You must not stop or park on any part of the motorway unless your vehicle breaks down or you are signalled by a Garda to do so
  • You must not drive a type of vehicle that is restricted to a maximum vehicle speed limit of 80km/h or less in the traffic lane nearest the centre median of the motorway (the outside lane). An exception to this prohibition applies at any location where the speed limit is 80km/h or less.
  • You must not pick up or set down anybody on a motorway.

Using lanes properly

It is very important that you understand the purpose of each lane on a motorway. To help explain how and when to move from one lane to another, each lane is given a number. The picture below shows that lane 1 is the lane nearest the hard shoulder. This is also known as the inside lane. On a two-lane motorway, the lane nearest the central median is lane 2 (also called the outside lane). On a three-lane motorway, this lane is lane 3.

Motorway lanes

Lane 1

The normal 'keep left' rule applies. Stay in this lane unless you are overtaking.

Lane 2

On a two-lane motorway, use this for overtaking only and move back into lane 1 when you have finished. You may also use this lane to accommodate traffic merging from the left.

On a three-lane motorway, you may stay in this centre lane while there is slower moving traffic in lane 1.

Lane 3

If you are travelling on a three-lane motorway, you must use this lane only if traffic in lanes 1 and 2 is moving in queues and you need to overtake or accommodate merging traffic. Once you've finished overtaking, move back to your left and allow faster traffic coming from behind to pass by.

You must not use the lane nearest the central median (lane 2 or lane 3, depending on the motorway width) if you are driving:

  • a goods vehicle with a design gross vehicle weight of more than 3,500 kilograms,
  • a passenger vehicle with seating for more than 8 passengers (aside from the driver), or
  • a vehicle towing a trailer, horsebox or caravan.

You may use it, however, in exceptional circumstances when you cannot proceed in the inner lane because of a blockage ahead. You may also use it if you are at a location on a motorway where a speed limit of 80km/h or less applies.

Keeping your distance

Section 8 covers the 'two second rule' to help you keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front. Use this rule on motorways - driving too close hampers your ability to stop safely and significantly reduces your vision ahead.

When in a queue, your instinct may be to get closer to the vehicle in front to protect your position. Please remember that you must leave enough room in front of you to allow you to stop safely.


Once on a motorway, you must make a signal before every move. For example, moving from lane 3 to lane 1 involves two separate stages.

  • In stage one you signal once to move from lane 3 to lane 2.
  • In stage 2 you signal again to move from lane 2 to lane 1.

Checking traffic around you

Check your mirrors regularly, as you need to have a constant picture in your mind of what's going on all around you. Be very aware of your blind spots as well.

Avoid staying in other drivers' blind spots. Keep your eyes moving - avoid looking only at the vehicle immediately ahead. Instead, scan up the queue. Use your view to drive smoothly and avoid unnecessary braking. If you notice traffic slowing down sharply, use your hazard warning lights to warn traffic behind you.

Before changing lane, remember 'mirror, signal, mirror, manoeuvre'. Remember that traffic may be coming from behind you at speed. Checking your mirrors at least twice helps you judge this approach speed and will help you to see vehicles travelling in your blind spots.

Avoid causing another driver to brake or change lane to accommodate you while you are on the motorway (aside from joining it). Learn to read the traffic around you. A vehicle in your mirror on the motorway with its right indicator flashing is trying to tell you that it's catching up on you and intends to overtake your vehicle.


Overtake only on the right, unless traffic is travelling in slow moving queues and the traffic queue on your right is travelling more slowly than you are. If you intend to move from a slower lane to a faster lane, adjust your speed first.

Before you start to overtake, remember 'mirror, signal, mirror, manoeuvre', and look in your blind spots. Check that the way is clear (behind and ahead) and signal well in advance.

Remember that traffic will be travelling a lot faster than on ordinary roads. Be particularly careful at dusk, during darkness, and in poor weather conditions when it is more difficult to judge speed, distance and stopping distance. Signal and return to your original lane as soon as possible.


Gantries are structures used to display traffic signs above traffic lanes on motorways and dual-carriageways. They are common, so make sure you pay attention to them as well as to other signs along the side of the road.

Leaving the motorway

The signs below show the distance to the next exit on a motorway. Plan well ahead and use these signs to position yourself in good time so you can get into lane early.

Motorway 500 meter count down
300m to the next exit

Motorway 500 meter count down
200m to the next exit

Motorway 500 meter count down
100m to the next exit

When you leave the motorway, you will first enter a deceleration lane. If possible, keep up your speed until you enter this lane, but then slow down and check for signs showing a lower speed limit. Use your speedometer to make sure you are obeying the reduced limit. Remember that the slip roads and link roads between motorways may include sharp bends.

If you miss your exit, drive on to the next exit. You must not attempt to cross the ghost island or reverse back up the hard shoulder.

When you leave a motorway, or it comes to an end, you will see the signs below.

Motorway ends 1km
Motorway ends 1km ahead

Motorway ends 500 meters
Motorway ends 500m ahead

Motorway ends
End of motorway

Stopping and Parking

You may only stop or park on the motorway when:

  • your car breaks down,
  • a Garda signals you to do so,
  • there is an emergency (such as a crash),
  • there are road works, or
  • you are at a toll plaza.

Before you begin a long motorway journey, make sure your vehicle:

  • is fit to carry out a long journey at motorway speeds,
  • has the correct tyre pressure,
  • has enough oil and coolant, and
  • has enough fuel to at least take you to the next petrol station.

Also make sure that any loads carried or towed are secure and that you have enough money or a suitable pass if you are using a tolled motorway.

What to do if your vehicle breaks down

  • If you have hazard warning lights, switch them on.
  • Move your vehicle on to the hard shoulder. If you cannot do this, take whatever steps you can to warn other drivers of its presence.
  • Always get out of your vehicle from the passenger side. Do not attempt to walk on the motorway.
  • Get help quickly and do not leave your vehicle unattended for longer than necessary. Wait for help on the embankment side of the motorway.
  • If you are driving a heavy goods vehicle or bus, display your warning triangle.
  • Use the roadside telephone or a mobile phone to tell the Gardai..
  • When rejoining the motorway, build up your speed first on the hard shoulder.
  • Watch for a safe gap in the traffic before rejoining it.

Motorway breakdown


If you become aware of something blocking the flow of traffic ahead, use the roadside telephone or a mobile phone to tell the Garda.. Do not attempt to remove it yourself.


The general rules of the road and the Road Traffic Acts apply, but specific road safety issues apply when you are approaching, driving through or leaving a tunnel.

Approaching the tunnel

  • Check you have enough fuel in your vehicle before entering the tunnel.
  • Remove sunglasses,
  • Switch on dipped headlights,
  • If available tune in to the designated FM radio station as this will let you hear safety instructions during your journey. The station frequency will be displayed on an information sign at the entrance to the tunnel,
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Remember, you're entering a tunnel and tailgating could create an emergency. The recommended minimum safe distance for a car or motorcycle is 50 metres and for all other vehicles 100 metres. Always remember the 'two second rule'.
  • Be aware there are restrictions on the use of tunnels by Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs).
  • The maximum permissible height will be sign-posted. You must check this before you enter the tunnel.
  • Wide loads may not be permitted. If you are carrying a wide load you must contact the tunnel operators well in advance to see if the load is allowed.
  • Vehicle size - there may be a ban on the use of the right-hand lane in a tunnel by large goods vehicles or other non-passenger vehicles if the number of axles on the vehicle equals or is more than the figure shown on a regulatory sign provided on the approach road to a tunnel.

For detailed information contact the tunnel operator.

In the tunnel

  • Keep in lane and do not overtake.
  • You must not drive in the right-hand lane in a tunnel if you are driving a type of vehicle prohibited from using this lane.
  • Do not turn or reverse.
  • Do not stop, except in case of emergency.
  • Obey the speed limits. There are two forms of speed limit signs.
  • a standard speed limit sign applies where there is a fixed speed limit. Youmust obey the speed limit and remember this is the maximum permitted speed, not the required speed.
  • where the speed limit can vary you will see variable message signs, which are black squares with red circles and figures in white or yellow throughout the tunnel. The speed limit is shown by the figures and will vary according to traffic conditions and road safety considerations. You must obey the speed limit and remember this is the maximum permitted speed, not the required speed. 'Always remember the two second rule.'
  • Keep your distance. The recommended minimum safe distance for a car or motorcycle is 50 metres and for all other vehicles 100 metres.


If you are instructed to stop, you should stop and,

  • switch on your hazard warning lights,
  • keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front,
  • switch off your engine,
  • check your radio for instructions from the tunnel operator,
  • check all electronic signs in the tunnel for information, and
  • if necessary, leave the tunnel using the nearest available pedestrian exit.

Breakdown or a crash

If there is a breakdown or a crash in the tunnel, you should:

  • switch on your hazard warning lights,
  • switch off your engine,
  • go to an emergency station and use the emergency phone to tell the tunnel operator,
  • check your radio for instructions, and
  • check all electronic signs in the tunnel for information.

Fire in your vehicle

If there is smoke or fire in your vehicle, you should:

  • switch off your engine,
  • leave your vehicle immediately,
  • go to an emergency station and use the emergency phone to tell the tunnel operator, and
  • leave the tunnel from the nearest available exit.

Fire in another vehicle

If there is smoke or fire in another vehicle, you should:

  • if the fire is behind you, drive out of the tunnel, or
  • if the fire is ahead of you, turn off your engine, leave the vehicle immediately, and leave the tunnel by the nearest emergency exit.

Leaving the tunnel

  • Follow the road signs.
  • Keep a safe speed and position on the roadway.

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