At present, the speed limit for most vehicles on motorways is 70 mph (112 kph). Recent Government statistics from 2019 found half of cars and vans exceed the speed limit on motorways and one in ten speed by more than 10 mph.
The following vehicles are restricted to driving at no more than 60 mph:
It is estimated that there are 500 miles of smart motorways in England with a further 300 miles to be developed within the next four to five years.
Smart motorways are designed to ease motorway congestion by allowing cars to be occasionally driven on the hard shoulder, particularly during the busiest periods of the day.
Smart motorways are sections of motorway in Great Britain that use active traffic management to increase capacity, resulting in smoother traffic flow, more reliable journey times, fewer road traffic collisions and reduced noise and air pollution. During the busiest periods of the day, traffic may be allowed to travel on the hard shoulder to ease traffic congestion.
Traffic is monitored using cameras and sensors and controlled via active signs which can show varying speed limits as well as indicate lane closures at any given time. Unlike other roads, if you do break the law when driving on a smart motorway it’s less likely to go unnoticed.
If you break the variable speed limit, which is set by a regional traffic centre and will be displayed on the gantry above the specific lanes, you could face yourself paying a fine of up to £2,500 (based on your income) and land six penalty points on your licence.
If you are caught driving over 90 mph on a smart motorway you could be disqualified from driving altogether.
If there aren’t any speed limits shown on the gantry above the lanes, it means the national speed limit is in place for that section of the motorway.
A recent survey by road safety campaign group Brake and the breakdown recovery firm Green Flag questioned over 2,000 UK motorists and found that only 48% of drivers know how to use smart motorway and 25% admitted to not knowing what a smart motorway is.
There are several important rules, which some drivers claim not to know:
The following types of vehicles are allowed to travel on UK motorways:
Most of the following vehicles aren’t allowed to travel on UK motorways due to not being able to reliably meet the minimum speed requirements:
It’s tempting for some drivers who are nervous about motorway driving, to slow down when joining a motorway from a slip road. However, the purpose of the slip road is to allow the driver to get their vehicle up to the same speed as the vehicles in the left-hand land of the motorway.
While on the slip road, you find a suitable gap to be able to join the traffic in the left-hand lane. If you need to, alter your speed before you reach the end of the acceleration lane to prevent braking and coming to a stop.
Motorway exits are marked one and a half miles before each junction. There are also three signs which count down to the exit junction in 100-metre increments. When you need to exit the motorway you should:
This is the routine lane drivers should be in when not overtaking other vehicles.
It can be tempting for some drivers to stay in this lane if they are nervous about changing lanes. However, this is dangerous, as well as frustrating to other motorists.
As of 2013, new laws were introduced to allow police officers to dish out £100 on-the-spot fines as well as three penalty points to drivers who hog the middle lane. This lane should be used to overtake slow-moving traffic in the left lane – once you’ve finished overtaking you should move back into the left-hand lane.
Should only be used to overtake vehicles moving slowly in both the left-hand and middle lanes.
Strictly speaking, undertaking on a motorway isn’t illegal. Although, if caught by the police, they will view it as reckless or aggressive driving, unless it was for either of the following two reasons:
Avoiding a collision
If the car ahead hits the brakes hard and the left lane is the only free lane, undertaking might be your only option – just make sure it’s safe to move into that lane before doing so.
For example, if you’re in the right-hand lane and the car in front slams its brakes on, you can undertake and move into the middle lane, but before doing so, make sure no vehicle from the left-hand lane is about to move into the middle lane.
Congestion in the right-hand lane
If the far lane is extremely congested, you may undertake, providing you stay below the speed limit.
Since June 2018, learner drivers can now drive on UK motorways, providing they are accompanied by a qualified instructor who has dual control of the vehicle.
You might be thinking to yourself that it’s ok to stop in the hard shoulder to check something like ‘Did I remember to pack my laptop in my boot’. Please allow us to introduce Highway Code 264, which stipulates:
You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police or traffic officers in uniform or by signs.
So this means no stopping to take a call on your mobile or to eat your lunch.
However, as mentioned further above, if you’re driving on a smart motorway, you might be permitted at certain peak times of the day, such as rush hour, that the hard shoulder is available to use as an extra running lane.
Please do check the gantry signs above though to make sure it’s ok to move into the hard shoulder.
The only other reasons for using the hard shoulder include:
If you’re caught stopping on the hard shoulder without any of the above reasons, you could land a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
Furthermore, if you have caused an accident as a result of using the hard shoulder for anything other than the above reasons, you could be charged with careless driving which carries a £5,000 fine and up to nine penalty points.
Recent figures show that over 100 people are either seriously injured or killed on the hard shoulder every year.
If the worst happens and your vehicle develops a problem, and it’s not possible to exit the motorway, pull over to the hard shoulder – making sure you first get the vehicle as far over to the left as possible.
Once you have done that it’s important to:
Understanding the laws and rules of the motorway will hopefully lead to reducing the risk of you being involved in a motorway collision and driving as safely as possible.
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