According to a new survey, motorists think smart highway rules are confusing – and safety groups fear it could lead to tragedy on the roads.
Less than half (48%) of UK drivers know the rules for using smart highways. This is based on a survey commissioned by the braking and roadside assistance charity Green Flag.
Slightly more than one in four drivers (27%) knows what a smart motorway is, but does not know the relevant regulations.
And another quarter (25%) of the 2,010 drivers surveyed said they didn’t even know what a smart highway is, let alone what the rules are.
The intelligent motorway network in England extends for around 500 miles. Another 300 miles are planned by 2025.
Smart highways use traffic management methods like opening the hard shoulder to increase capacity and reduce congestion.
BBC Panorama found that at least 38 people have died on smart highways in the past five years.
But Highways England says they’re safer, or safer, than the highways they replaced.
Brake Campaign Manager Joshua Harris said: “Drivers are confused about the rules for driving on smart highways and communication efforts urgently need to be stepped up to avoid more tragic incidents on these roads.
“We welcome the measures outlined by the government to improve the safety of smart highways and urge them to take this evidence-based approach for all UK roads.
“With more than 75 deaths and serious injuries on our roads every day, improving road safety must be a priority for this government.”
Damon Jowett, head of service delivery at the Green Flag, said he highlighted “gaps in driver awareness”. “
Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, said, “Mile after mile, highways are our safest roads, but they could be safer.”
A spokesman for Highways England said: “We are committed to making driving our roads safer and better for everyone. In the New Year we will start our latest campaign to raise awareness and understanding, especially what to do in the event of a breakdown.
“In the meantime, we welcome any research that, along with our own insights, helps us understand the opinion of road users and inform future road safety campaigns.”
What are the rules for smart highways?
The rules of smart highways include not driving in lanes under a red X.
Motorists are also encouraged to use protected areas wherever possible in the event of an emergency or breakdown rather than stopping on live lanes.
Smart highways are used to increase capacity without making lane widening more disruptive and costly.
You have several methods of controlling traffic flow, including variable speed limits and using the hard shoulder as a live running track.
As soon as Highways England is made aware of a stopped vehicle in an active lane, a red X will appear on the overhead bridges to indicate that the lane is closed.
Safety Concerns – and the Plan of Action to Address Them
There are concerns that it can take too long to detect a stranded vehicle on smart highways and that some drivers ignore red X’s.
A truck driver was jailed for 10 months last week for killing two men in a collision on a smart highway.
Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a truck driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba, 40, plowed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on June 7th last year.
A “Evidence” published in March by Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps found that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles on smart highways is lower than on conventional highways, but the likelihood of an accident involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle with a hard shoulder is higher is is removed.
This resulted in an 18-point action plan that included installing more stops in the event of an emergency and introducing a radar-based system to detect defective vehicles more quickly.
Highways England insists that smart highways “are at least as safe or safer than the traditional highways they replaced”.