The introduction of so-called ‘smart motorways’ in the UK has led to an increase in traffic offences as the new rules are said to have confused drivers.
Figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 Live revealed that the number of people caught illegally using the hard shoulder increased from 859 in 2014-16 to 1,014 in 2015-16 – a rise of 18 per cent.
One possible reason for this is that drivers are confused by new smart motorway rules – which include converting some hard shoulders into either part-time or permanent running lanes – and do not understand when it is legal to use these lanes.
There are currently more than 200 miles of smart motorway in the UK, including sections of key highways such as the M25, M6, M4 and M1. Another 200 miles are either planned or already under construction.
Among the most common excuses given by drivers for using the hard shoulder illegally were that it offered the fastest route to their destination, or that they were looking for signage.
Suzette Davenport, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), told the BBC: “I genuinely don’t know that people understand when it is OK. Absolutely there are people who will now use the hard shoulder if there is a queue of traffic so they get off more quickly because they don’t want to sit in a queue.”
To combat this lack of understanding, the NPCC said it wants to create more awareness of road rules, particularly those that only apply to motorways. Ms Davenport noted that at the moment, there is no option for driver retraining courses for those committing an offence on a motorway, with the only option being a fine and penalty points.
“We have about one million people a year on other road networks who are being caught driving and are going on national offender retraining. So we’ve been talking to Highways England about developing a course,” she said.
Details are still being discussed, but it is thought such courses could be offered to people who break the variable speed limit, use lanes closed with a red X or use the hard shoulder when it has been closed.