Driving laws on motorways are about to change – here’s how to avoid a fine

The government will start penalising drivers who ignore smart motorway lane closures. They are expected to introduce a fixed penalty in spring 2018 – here’s what you need to know in order to avoid a fine.

What are smart motorways?

Smart motorways operate variable speed limits and can open the hard shoulder during busy periods in order to ease congestion and improve traffic flow. They are fully automated using roadside cameras.

Automated gantry signs above the motorway indicate when a lane is open or closed, and what the variable speed limit is (if no speed limit is displayed, the national limit applies). If a lane needs closing because of a blockage, accident or stranded vehicle, the gantry signs will show a large red X to indicate that motorists shouldn’t be using that lane.

With some drivers ignoring those warnings, however, the government will be modifying existing roadside cameras to automatically detect violations.

What is the fine?

The government is expected to announce a fixed penalty of £100 and three penalty points for offenders – but, as the offence falls under driving without due care or attention or dangerous or reckless driving, this could increase to £2,500 depending on the severity of the incident.

It’s believed that the fixed penalty fine will be introduced in spring 2018 – some say it could be as early as March.

Is driving in closed lanes illegal?

Driving in a closed motorway or dual carriageway lane is already illegal. But, as a lane on a smart motorway can be opened or closed at any time, some drivers are ignoring – or perhaps not noticing – the red X and continue to use the lane.

Highways England says that this is dangerous driving. They have already issued 80,000 warning letters to drivers who have broken smart motorway rules since 2016. Of those 80,000 warning letters, a third are specifically due to ignoring the closed lane warning signs.

How will offenders be caught?

There are already cameras installed on smart motorways, which monitor traffic conditions and catch speeding motorists.

In some areas, these cameras are being trialled to monitor the number of motorists using closed lanes.

Some stretches of the M1, M6, M42, M5 and M4 already have the camera infrastructure in place to see which motorists are using closed lanes when they shouldn’t be.

Further areas of smart motorway are expected on the M3, M23, M20, M8, M74 and A1(M). The government are also committed to improving driver safety by installing more refuge areas and laybys on smart motorways to use in emergencies.

How you can avoid a fine on smart motorways

The government have a number of safety tips for motorists using smart motorways. Here are some of the main ones that should help you avoid a fine:

  • When you see a red X closing a lane, move out of that lane promptly. A lane might be closed for several reasons including an accident, debris in the road, or a breakdown, so it’s dangerous to continue using it

  • Speed limits on smart motorways can be changed to manage traffic at busy times and speed cameras monitor the motorway. If you don’t stick to these speed limits when you see them, you may receive a fine. If no speed limit is displayed, the national speed limit applies

  • If the hard shoulder is open, you’ll see the speed limit sign displayed above it. If there is no sign, or a red X is displayed, then normal hard shoulder rules apply. In other words, do not use it except in emergency

  • Smart motorways have refuge areas spaced regularly along the road, so you should use these in an emergency

For more information, we recommend that you read the government’s full guidance on using smart motorways.

Are you confused by the rules on smart motorways? Let us know in the comments below.

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