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The Do’s and Don’ts of Smart Motorway Driving

With 10% of surveyed drivers not even knowing what a smart motorway is and the Government withdrawing their official guidelines on 9th December 2020, it is becoming more obvious the UK needs to do more and ensure Smart Motorways are safe and understandable for the public. In light of this we thought we would give you a breakdown of the Do’s and Don’ts when driving on the UK’s smart motorways.

If you simply google search “Smart Motorways” one of the questions that will be presented to you is ‘Are smart motorways safe?’ This in itself tells you a lot. A number of high profile tragic incidents have raised doubts about the wisdom of Smart Motorways being introduce in the UK. The public are also pretty unsure about how to use smart Motorways due to the failure of a notable promotional campaign to raise awareness of the guidelines that they should be adhering to.

“Almost 40 people have been killed in the last 5 years on Smart Motorways”
BBC Panorama

What are Smart Motorways?

Smart motorways are motorways segments and predominately used to manage traffic, increase the volume of cars at any given time and decrease congestion in notoriously busy areas. Sounds good so far, right? But with these advantages come disadvantages, for instance the hard shoulder is used as a running lane – this avoids having to create additional lanes which would in turn cost more money, take more time and have a greater effect on the environment.

Are there different types of Smart Motorways?

Yes, there are, ‘All lane running’, ‘Dynamic hard shoulder’ and ‘Controlled motorway’ are the three types of smart motorway.

All lane running – The hard shoulder is being used as a normal lane by traffic all of the time in these segments of motorway, then they have Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) at regular intervals.

Dynamic hard shoulder – The hard shoulder is available at peak times to reduce congestion with a speed-limit declared on the gantries. When it is not available there will be a red X on the displays.

Controlled motor way – The hard shoulder can only be used in an emergency, such as a breakdown. Also this type of motor way has its speed limit controlled by a regional traffic centre.

Advice For Driving on Smart Motorways

  • Don’t manoeuvre into a lane that has a red X on the gantry, this means it is closed and other than being dangerous, if you’re caught you will be hit with a £1000 fine and receive three points on your licence.
  • Do stay within the speed limit displayed on the gantry. With the same rules and penalties for a driver compared to driving on a standard motorway or road, the only difference is more cameras, which is turn makes it more likely you’ll be caught breaking the speed limit.
  • Don’t move across a sold white line, this means it is a hard shoulder. So unless you’re directed to go there you could face a fine and points on your licence.
  • Do move across a broken white line as this indicates it is a normal running line and you can manoeuvre in a usual fashion.
  • Do exit the smart motorway immediately if your vehicle is experiencing issues such as a warning light or if you’re close enough park in an ERA.

What Should I Do If My Vehicle Breaks Down Whilst Driving On A Smart Motorway?

  • If your vehicle breaks down whilst driving on a smart motorway you should try and reach the emergency refuge area. Once pulled in turn on your hazard lights, if possible leave the vehicle from the left hand side, use the SOS phone to call for assistance and stand behind the barrier.
  • If your vehicle breaks down and you can’t reach the refuge area you should remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened. Put your hazard lights on and call 999 for help.

How Far Apart Are Emergency Hard Shoulders On Smart Motorways?

During the smart motorways pilot project the distance between emergency hard shoulders (or refuge areas as they are officially referred to) was 600m. However as they were rolled out these emergency refuge areas were placed up 2.5 miles apart. Hence the number of protests by road safety bodies and campaigners.

Will Smart Motor Ways Be Banned?

The transport secretary has received an open letter from A South Yorkshire police crime commissioner urging the government to ‘abandon’ smart motorways where all lanes are live, calling them unsafe and dangerous. Alongside this, he questions whether a person or persons would have a greater chance of avoiding injury or a fatality if there is a hard shoulder available.

“I believe smart motorways, as things stand, present an ongoing risk of deaths.”
Mr Urpeth, Coroner

He also included a coroner’s report into the death of two men on a smart motorway, in which the coroner concluded their deaths were caused by the absence of an available hard shoulder at the time… this also prompted the coroner to call for an urgent review of roads that present a significant risk of death.

“It is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy.”
Mr Urpeth, Coroner

A complete ban on these motorways is unlikely due to analysis that was commissioned by the transport secretary. It concluded that smart motorways are as safe as regular ones. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated: “The overall evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional ones.”

Though Shapps acknowledged that the bar could be raised on smart motorway safety in some areas. So the Government have announced millions in funding to implement 18 improvement measures in order to increase safety of smart motorways.

These safety upgrades include instructions for Highways England to make places to stop in an emergency more prominent as well as to shorten the intervals between them to every three quarters of a mile where practical. This will see motorists typically passing an emergency refuge area every 45 seconds at 60mph. Plans to use “stopped vehicle detection” technology are targeting installation within the next 36 months.

The Government intends to abolish  “dynamic hard shoulder” smart motorways, that utilise hard shoulders on a part-time basis as they can confuse drivers.

What do you think, should the government do a U-turn on smart motorways?..

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