Smart motorways were originally sold to motorists as a more efficient way to use the roads. Their innovative technology and time saving insights were going to free up traffic flow and reduce air pollution. Apparently.

However, could it be that they are really just another means of raising revenue through driving fines?

The red X

There will soon be a £100 fine for anyone caught driving in a lane marked with a red X. The red X is used predominantly to indicate when the hard shoulder has been closed. Not only will defying the red X now garner drivers a £100 fine, it will also incur penalty points on their licence.

The fine announcement follows Highways England sending out 50,000 warning letters to drivers who had been caught using smart motorways wrongly. A third of those letters related to drivers who had driven in a lane with a red X displayed above it. If all those drivers had received fines, instead of just warning letters, a cool £1.6 million would have been raised. Clearly, someone in charge has been doing some sums.

Safety concerns

The RAC agrees that handing out these fines is the right thing to do. The organisation hopes that the implementation of the fine will deter people from driving in closed lanes, which is often dangerous due to a hazard.

Seeing motorists using these closed lanes also makes other drivers frustrated, which can be dangerous in itself. This is especially true when people are intentionally using the closed lane until the last minute so that they can then cut in and get ahead of other road users.

Smart Motorways

(Credit – Bill Boaden)

Education needed

The red X that indicates the closed lane is very clear. However, in the cases of other transgressions, it may be lack of education about smart motorways that is causing motorists to make errors. Many don’t realise they are doing anything wrong.

The Department for Transport is expected to release plans for the new smart motorway fees shortly. In the meantime, it has been suggested that drivers be given more information about how to use smart motorways in the correct way. This would mean fewer drivers ending up with unexpected fines.

Not only would this help people to avoid fines, but it would also make smart motorways safer to use. At present it seems that many drivers are unaware of the risks involved with not using them properly.
For example, many people are unsure of what they would do if their car was to break down at a point when there is no hard shoulder to pull onto. Without this knowledge, there’s much greater scope for a breakdown to result in a nasty accident.
(In case you were wondering, there are emergency bays spaced along smart motorways at regular intervals. These can be used in the event of a problem. Meanwhile, you are advised to always check your tyres, oil, fuel and water before making a journey, to reduce the risk of a breakdown.)

Unfair fines?

With so many drivers being unaware of exactly how they should be using a smart motorway, it could be said that it really isn’t fair to impose fines on people until they have been given far more education about the new way of using these particular roads.

The lack of effort in terms of educating drivers certainly points to an intention to use smart motorways for revenue generation. The move will add to the pressure on drivers already struggling with rising motoring costs. Clearly, using smart motorways incorrectly can result in dangerous situations. However, does that make it right to prioritise fining transgressors before sufficiently educating them?

A cynic might presume that information is being withheld in order to catch people out when they are unsure of how to drive on these new roads. Perhaps our smart motorways are simply offering a smart new way to make more money from the UK’s beleaguered car owners.

With this in mind, Highways England has been asked to provide motorists with a better education about smart motorways. Drivers need to know what they do, how they should be used, and what the different signs mean. They also need to know what not to do, so that they can avoid being fined!

Are you confident that you understand all the rules and regulations relating to smart motorways or will you be one of those who could be in line for a fine due to lack of knowledge? Let us know your views by leaving a comment.  

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