Half of UK drivers don't understand smart motorway rules

Fewer than half of UK drivers know the rules for driving on smart motorways, according to new research. 

A study by road safety charity Brake and recovery service Green Flag found that only 48 per cent of drivers understood the rules around issues such as all-lane running and variable speed limits, and a worrying 25 per cent didn’t even know what a smart motorway was.

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Knowledge of the rules was greatest in England, which is the only part of the UK to currently have smart motorways operating. There, 52 per cent said they understood smart motorways, compared with 34 per cent of drivers in Wales, 23 per cent in Scotland and 24 per cent in Northern Ireland. 

There are around 400 miles of smart motorways currently in operation, with several more stretches under construction. The roads are intended to increase traffic capacity without the need for major new road building projects by using the hard shoulder as an additional “live” lane.

Cameras and overhead signs are used to monitor and control traffic on smart motorways (Photo: Shutterstock)

The roads have proved deeply controversial, with claims that their use has led to nearly 40 avoidable deaths, and claims that drivers are confused by the concept and the varying types of smart motorways in use. 

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Joshua King, campaign director for Brake said the study backed up these concerns and emphasised the need to improve public awareness and education around smart motorways. 

He said: “These important findings confirm what we all suspected – 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.

“We welcome the measures the Government has outlined to improve smart motorway safety and urge them to follow this evidence-led 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 Green Flag, added: “Motorways are a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure and are widely used by drivers across the country every day, and so the debate around smart motorways is an ongoing one. 

“While the smart motorways system allows for drivers to get to their destination more easily, understanding of the rules is paramount to ensure road safety. Our latest report has highlighted concerning gaps in driver awareness, and here at Green Flag, we want to help increase driver awareness for motorway driving to ensure these roads are as safe as possible.”