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What’s changing in the Highway Code? Drivers get guidance on smart motorways

1-minute read

Sam Bromley

28 July 2021

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The Highway Code is being updated later this year to give drivers guidance on the controversial smart motorway system.

Highways England has previously introduced automatic £100 fines to stop drivers using closed smart motorway lanes.

Update: the new rules were introduced on 14 September 2021. Read more about them below.

How will the Highway Code change?

The government says that 33 existing rules will be amended and two new rules will be introduced, designed to improve safety on smart motorways in particular.

On smart motorways, lanes can open and close at any time to ease congestion, and the hard shoulder can be used as a lane. If a lane is closed, a red X appears in the gantry signs.

While The Guardian reports that statistically, there are fewer deaths on smart motorways than conventional ones, there have been several high-profile cases where it’s clear that a hard shoulder would’ve saved lives.

So, the Highway Code update will include:

  • clearer advice on where to stop in an emergency (including emergency refuge area signage)
  • the importance of not driving in a lane closed by a red X
  • the use of variable speed limits to manage congestion
  • updated guidance on factors that contribute to safety-related incidents, including driving while tired, unroadworthy vehicles, safe towing, tailgating, and driving in roadworks

The update will also include the ‘go left’ messaging featured in a recent Highways England safety campaign, which lets drivers know they should go left if they break down on the motorway.

What's more, it will detail how safety cameras are used to make sure people stick to speed limits, as well as how they stop people using closed red X lanes.

Why is the Highway Code changing?

Highways England says that the update is to give road users clearer information, further improving safety across England’s major routes.

Jeremy Phillips, Highways England’s Head of Road Safety, said: “The new edition of the Highway Code can give everyone on our roads the confidence that they have the knowledge and skills to safely get from A to B.”

Smart motorways are controversial because they can add and remove the hard shoulder automatically. This has caused a number of fatal, tragic accidents, in which drivers have stopped on what would’ve been the hard shoulder, but oncoming traffic has failed to avoid their vehicle.

Neil Worth, Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, said: “We urge drivers and riders to ensure they know the rules and signs relating to smart motorways. Understanding how a smart motorway works can help make sure you don’t receive an unwanted traffic ticket. Knowing what to do if you are unfortunate enough to experience a breakdown in a stretch of smart motorway could well prove a lifesaver.”

What do you think about the update to the Highway Code? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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