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Drivers face fines on smart motorways for these common mistakes – so how much do you really know about the rules?

Fifteen years on since the first Smart Motorway was introduced on the M42 in Birmingham we look at things drivers need to be aware of and how smart motorways differ from conventional roads. From fines to breakdowns, automatic lane closure technology and speed awareness, how clued up are you when driving on Britain’s ‘smart’ roads? What measures are in place to keep motorists safe on smart motorways and what are the risks?

Find out how much you really know about smart motorways with tips on what to do if you have an accident, information on how smart motorways actually work and a break down of what are the risks.

Smart motorways were first introduced in 2006 as a means of reducing congestion on our roads by utilising the hard shoulder as an extra lane of live traffic.

Managed by National Highways through regional control centres, they were hailed as a more affordable and easier solution to congestion on major routes across the UK.  Active traffic management techniques such as CCTV and automatic lane closure technology is used to regulate the speed of the road and open and close lanes as needed to ease congestion.

However, in the last 15 years a lot of controversy has centred around the safety of smart motorways and the technology used to monitor them.

Government figures show 38 people have died on smart motorways in the last 5 years although campaigners, who have analysed the figures believe that number could be nearer 63.

Many accidents occur when a car is broken down in a live lane of traffic and the hard shoulder that would usually be used for a vehicle to move out the way is in use. With a stationary vehicle stranded in a live lane of traffic it is runs the risk of causing a collision.

Manjinder Kang, our expert motoring lawyer, who has worked on a number of high profile cases, says more needs to be done to keep people safe while using the roads.

“It is the fundamental make-up of smart motorways which makes deaths more likely on these stretches of road.

It is more difficult for a motorist to recognise if a car is stationary when other vehicles are moving at fast speed. When you are driving at 60 – 70mph you will come up quickly on a stationary vehicle and it can be too late to react.

It takes seconds for an accident to occur but minutes for automatic lane closures to be implemented. This time delay is where the highest risk occurs as the technology just isn’t quick enough to keep drivers safe.”

So, how do smart motorways work?

Smart motorways work by having auto lane closure technology which is monitored by CCTV from regional control rooms to open and close lanes, change the speed of traffic and use the hard shoulder as an additional lane of traffic in order to ease congestion. Overhead signage on motorway gantries show whether a lane is closed with a red cross. Speed limits are also adapted to slow traffic down and prevent congestion in order to encourage a steady flow of traffic.

What are the rules?

This year is the first year that rules on driving on smart motorways have been introduced into the Highway Code. They break down what you should do if you are involved in an accident, how to follow the road signs, the use of variable speed limits to manage traffic and clearer advice on where to stop in an emergency.

Unlike on other roads, over-head signs can be automatically changed from regional control centres. This means that speed limits can vary and lanes can sometimes close or open depending on traffic. It is important drivers are extra vigilant and aware of changing signage.

It is illegal for motorists to continue to drive in a lane which is closed with a red cross on the sign. New rules in the Highway Code this year mean that drivers now face fines of up to £1,000 and three penalty points for breaking the rules.

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If I can’t use a hard shoulder, what do I do if I break down on a smart motorway?

As the National Highways advert highlights, ‘Go Left’. The official guidance for someone driving on a smart motorway that needs to pull over is to find an emergency layby or move as far to the left as safely possible.

You should then switch on your hazard lights and get out of the vehicle if it is safe to do. Do not attempt to fix even simple errors at the side of the road. Stay the other side of the barrier as far away from traffic as possible and make sure you are away from the vehicle so it cannot get pushed towards you if there is a collision.

If you have breakdown cover, call to get the car towed or if it is in a dangerous position phone 999 and ask for the police.

Manjinder, who has worked on a number of motoring cases involving accidents on smart motorways, feels that no amount of technology can make smart motorways safe and the hard shoulder needs to be reinstated if more accidents are to be avoided.

However, if you find yourself driving on a smart motorway here is a breakdown of things you need to know.

 

Top tips for driving on a smart motorway

  1. Stay extra vigilant

Be extra prepared that traffic may have stopped in a live lane if there is an accident or breakdown. Unlike other fast-moving roads, smart motorways do not have a hard shoulder so there is a chance there could be a car obstructing the left lane. It is hard to judge when driving at speed whether the car in front is moving so always stay alert and be prepared to act very quickly if a situation arises.

  1. Look out for the yellow emergency stopping areas

When the hard shoulder is in use additional stopping areas are available. Although these are around 1.5miles apart so you need to be aware when they are approaching and plan as much as possible to pull in if needed when they are available.

  1. Get out and get safe if you break down

If you break down and there isn’t an emergency stopping area available move over as far left as you can out of the live traffic, turn on your hazard lights and exit the vehicle as quickly as possible if it is safe to do so and move as far behind the barrier and away from the traffic as possible. Call the emergency services on 999 to make them aware a vehicle is broken down in a live lane of traffic so that the lane can be closed.

  1. Look out for a red cross

If a red cross appears above the lane you are driving in safely move to another lane with a green tick. The red cross means the lane has been closed. The reason may not be apparent straight away but there could be a stranded vehicle in the lane further ahead which would result in an accident if you don’t heed the signals. You can now face a fine of £1,000 if you continue driving in a closed lane of traffic with a red cross.

  1. Stick to the speed limits on the motorway gantries (overhead signage).

The speed limit can change to accommodate changes on the road such as heavy traffic, an accident or obstruction or road works. Make sure that you check what the current speed limit is as it may not be the national speed limit if temporary changes are implemented. If you are exceeding the speed limit then you face prosecution for speeding which could result in penalty points, disqualification or a fine.

  1. Act immediately if you think there is an issue with your car

Make sure that if you notice an issue with your vehicle, such as a warning light coming on, you exit as safely and as soon as you can to prevent breaking down in a live lane.

Do you require legal advice &/or representation?

If you are facing a driving offence prosecution and require expert legal representation at Court, call our lawyers on 0345 222 9955 or complete our Contact Form.

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