The government is investigating fining more drivers who ignore lane closures on smart motorways. Highways England, which manages the motorway network, is currently trialling cameras designed to automatically snap cars driving in lanes marked with a red cross.
Drivers caught illegally using the closed lanes could then be hit with a £100 fine. And police chiefs are now looking at retraining for offenders – the equivalent of a speed awareness course – to ensure drivers don’t break the law again. These changes could be brought in as quickly as March 2018. Read on to find out more.
How do smart motorways work?
They are sections of existing motorways where the hard shoulder can be opened and used as a regular carriageway. They feature message boards on overhead gantries which display variable speed limits depending on traffic conditions. When a lane is closed, reverting to a traditional hard shoulder, the signs above show a red cross. This is designed as a safety measure in case broken down or rescue vehicles are on the hard shoulder.
What is the problem?
Increasing numbers of drivers are ignoring warning signals that lanes are closed. CCTV cameras monitor all smart motorway sections. And there are speed cameras to ensure drivers comply with variable limits. Nonetheless, figures obtained by Radio 5 Live reveal that between 2014-15 and 2015-16 there was an 18 per cent increase in drivers fined for illegal hard shoulder use.
From December 2016 to December 2017, Highways England sent out around 80,000 letters to drivers who had been spotted flouting smart motorway rules. Around a third of those letters were to car owners spied driving in closed carriageways.
Why the fines?
The authorities are keen that ignoring instructions on smart motorways doesn’t become the norm. A spokesman said: “We close lanes for a reason and drivers ignoring red Xs puts them and others at risk. Since we started issuing warning letters we have seen a decrease in the number of drivers ignoring lane closures.” The cameras that are currently being trialled will be linked to the gantry signs and automatically snap drivers in lanes that are closed to cars. Drivers will then receive a fixed penalty notice with a fine of £100 and three penalty points – the same as going through a red light.
Police worry drivers don’t understand smart motorways
There is concern among police chiefs that drivers don’t understand when they can and can’t use the hard shoulder on smart motorways. Suzette Davenport from the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “There are people who will now use the hard shoulder if there is a queue of traffic so they get off (the motorway) more quickly because they don’t want to sit in that queue.”
Davenport explained there is currently no driver re-training course for motorway offenders. However, she revealed the police are in discussion with Highways England about developing motorway driver re-training. Those caught driving in a closed lane would be offered this as an alternative to a fine and points.
Tips for driving on smart motorways
Highways England offers the following tips for drivers on smart motorways:
- Never drive in a lane closed by a red ‘X’
- Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
- A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed
- A broken white line indicates a normal running lane
- If your vehicle experiences difficulties, eg warning light, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
- Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
- Put your hazard lights on if you break down