In a new study, carried out by Kwik Fit, 56% of drivers said that they avoid using the open hard shoulder on smart motorways, and with some stretches of smart motorway earning more than £6m in under three years through fines and convictions, you’d have to say that it’s not surprising.

Thanks to the smart technology needed to operate the motorways, fining drivers for minor mistakes or indiscretions is easy; the stretch of M1 motorway between Junction 30 – 35A in Yorkshire has seen 62,337 tickets issued since 2017.

Lane confusion

29% of the respondents said they don’t use the open hard shoulder over fear of not knowing whether they’re allowed to, which of course would lead to an instant penalty if they’re mistaken. For these motorists, they’re happy to use the smart motorway as a regular motorway, which does negate the effect of ‘smart’ somewhat.

Although there is some outdated evidence that smart motorways can help with congestion, the primary factor behind them is of course, financial. A smart motorway is around 60% cheaper than traditional widening, so despite the very real safety concerns over smart motorways, it seems that they’re the preferred choice of the authorities.

Cashing in

And while government ministers would argue against the logical conclusion, you’d have to consider that the draw of easy motoring revenue must have been included in the budgetary figures when planning to upgrade any motorway; it’s a win-win situation for the government, in that they get a wider road for 60% less outlay, and whatever they do spend can be partially recovered by fining the motorists as often as possible.

It’s thought that around £41m has been raised by the use of smart motorways, purely through fining drivers for speeding and lane-infringement wrongdoings – using a lane when it’s closed.

No one argues that lane discipline is crucial to the safety of all motorists, workers, & breakdowns etc, but there needs to be more done to offer sanctuary to the stranded motorist; breaking down (during off-peak hours) on a smart motorway has been proven to be 216% more dangerous than on a conventional motorway.

The three-lane squeeze

It’s also worth noting that as the traditional hard shoulder was never designed to carry traffic, it isn’t quite the full width of a traffic lane, which means that any smart motorway is now effectively trying to squeeze four lanes, into 3 3/4, making the lanes just that little bit tighter, so for the 15% of respondents that aren’t confident driving to close to the edge, there’s a double-whammy.

Of course in the age of swingeing budget cuts, authorities must do all they can to save money, many local authorities are now implementing ‘spend to save’ programmes, but it does seem as though factoring in revenue from fines has become the norm so it’s unlikely that there will be a let-up in processing misdemeanours, and as we learnt before, this could be anything from a noisy car, through to distracted driving.

The rise of technology on our roads is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, it does help to protect the public from menacing drivers, or those drivers that see a car as purely a means of getting from A to B, with little thought or minimal input along the way, but the downside is that driving a car is becoming increasingly fraught with concerns over minor indiscretions with motoring laws, including speeding.
We’ve known for many a year that motorists are seen as the easy cash cow for bulking up the coffers, and that situation is only going to get worse, under the guise of ‘safety technology’. But at what point does safety end, and pure money-grabbing begin?

Where will these non-discretionary cameras lead us to? And how much impact will they have on the pastime of ‘motoring’? It could be argued that while they’re adding to road safety, they’re also dumbing down common sense, and driving skills, and of course, they’ll have a detrimental impact on the pleasure of driving – people just driving for the love of driving.

The modern way

It’s easy to look back through rose-tinted glasses and long for the days of ‘free’ motoring, but to do that would negate all of the other technological achievements that we’re living through; self-driving cars, OTA (Over the Air) fixes, fuel economy that would put a scooter to shame … technology has given us so much more than fines & penalties, but as with any new tech, there’s always a downside, and unfortunately for the motorist, the government is controlling that downside, and we’re financially paying the price.
Is a smart motorway just another way of earning easy money from the motorist? Or do you genuinely think they make a difference to a commute? Let us know in the comments.

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