Smart travelling: how to read map contours and drive safely

Driving safely is half the battle: the other half is properly being able to read map contours. Here, learn to make the most of your journey.

Smart travelling: how to read map contours and drive safely

Read map contours

A short walk isn't necessarily an easy stroll if it's all uphill. Learn how to interpret a walker's map, which shows contours, to get a measure of the gradient before you set off. A walker's map shows variations in the height of the ground with brown contour lines, which join together places of the same height above sea level.

  • Each line indicates a rise or fall of five metres (16.5 feet) or 10 metres (33 feet), depending on the scale of the map.
  • Numbered lines indicate the actual height of the ground. Use these to work out whether the ground is rising or falling with the direction of your route.
  • Tightly packed contour lines indicate a steep hill. If the contour lines are widely spaced, then the climb (or descent) is less steep.
  • The highest number is always at the top of the hill, but the bottom of the hill is rarely at 0 metres (sea level). To calculate your climb, subtract the starting height from the height at the top.

Drive safely on a highway

Smart driving on the motorway

  • Leave two seconds' worth of space between you and the driver in front. Use a marker such as a bridge or a tree to help you to measure the space — count the time between the car in front passing it and you passing it.
  • Keep to the inside lane unless you're passing.
  • Observe the speed limit.
  • Indicate whenever you want to change lanes.
  • Take particular care when passing large vehicles.

If you break down

  • Get your car as far over onto the hard shoulder as you can, switch on your hazard lights then exit the car by the door nearest the shoulder (away from traffic).
  • Use a highway emergency phone where available, not your cell phone, to call for help. This makes it easy to locate you.
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