Smart motorways: Half of UK motorists ‘don’t understand different rules’, survey suggests

The rules of smart motorways are a mystery to more than half of UK motorists, a survey has found.

A poll of 2,010 drivers commissioned by road safety charity Brake and breakdown recovery firm Green Flag found just 48% know how to use smart motorways.

A quarter (25%) of those questioned said they do not even know what one is.

Smart motorways make up around 500 miles of motorways in England, with another 300 miles planned by 2025, and differ from normal motorways in certain key respects.

Their rules include not driving in lanes below a red X and several means of managing traffic, such as variable speed limits and using the hard shoulder as a live driving lane.

Drivers are encouraged to use refuge areas in the event of a breakdown or emergency, rather than stopping in live lanes.

Red Xs appear on overhead gantries as soon as Highways England knows a vehicle has stopped in a live lane.

But there are concerns it can take too long to spot a stranded vehicle and that some drivers ignore red Xs.

At least 38 people have died on stretches of smart motorways in the past five years, the BBC’s Panorama found.

Last week, lorry driver, Prezemyslaw Szuba, 40, was jailed for 10 months for causing the deaths of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, in a collision on a stretch of smart motorway near Sheffield.

There’s less risk of moving vehicles colliding on smart motorways than conventional motorways, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in March.

But he warned the chance of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle is higher when the hard shoulder is removed.

An 18-point action plan to make smart motorways safer followed.

Highways England insists smart motorways are “at least as safe as, or safer than, the conventional motorways they replaced”.

Brake director of campaigns Joshua Harris said: “Drivers are confused about the rules of driving on smart motorways and communication efforts must urgently be stepped up to help avoid more tragic incidents on these roads.

There are more than 75 deaths and serious injuries on the UK’s roads every day, Mr Harris said.

Green Flag head of service delivery Damon Jowett said: “Our latest report has highlighted concerning gaps in driver awareness.”

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