How quickly do motorists need to slow down to adhere to changing speed limits on smart motorways before they are fined for speeding?
An exclusive investigation by Auto Express found drivers have 60 seconds to react to a new limit being displayed on a smart motorway overhead gantry before cameras start snapping them for speeding.
The one-minute grace period was confirmed by Highways England, the under-fire operator responsible for smart motorways that have been dubbed ‘death traps’ by MPs and police this week.
A minute grace period: Highways England confirmed to Auto Express that cameras enforce variable speed limits on smart motorways a minute after they are adjusted
All three types of smart motorway use variable speed limits to respond to busy periods of traffic, roadworks and incidents that have taken place ahead.
A speed limit can be changed at any time and motorists are informed by signs on gantries above the motorway.
All speed cameras enforcing smart motorways re-calibrate to match the new limit put in place temporarily to catch motorists speeding.
But how long do motorists have to adjust their speed to limits that can suddenly drop by ten miles per hour or more?
Motoring magazine and website Auto Express has quizzed Highways England about the level of enforcement and how quickly cameras react to a new speed limit in place.
The government agency confirmed there is a 60 second gap between a speed limit change appearing on gantries and smart motorway speed cameras settings switching to trigger to the new limit.
After that minute has passed, the cameras are enforcing at the new signposted limit until further notice.
It means drivers need to be extra vigilant while using these roads, as they could face speeding fines if they don’t respond to changing limits quickly enough.
All three types of smart motorway use variable speed limits to respond to busy periods of traffic, roadworks and incidents that have taken place ahead
Cameras on smart motorways can catch people speeding if they are exceeding the limit in place at the time, whether that is 70, 60, 50 or 40mph
Given that the new speeding sentencing structures that could lead to as much as a £2,500 fine for offenders, motorists who flout the rules leave themselves wide open to severe financial punishment.
Highways England told Auto Express: ‘Following a change in the speed displayed by signals there is a 60-second grace period before HADECS3 cameras start enforcement, giving time for drivers to adapt to the new mandatory speed limit, especially when speed limits are reduced due to slow-moving or queuing traffic up ahead.’
One stretch of smart motorway where four drivers were killed after being stranded with no hard shoulder was found to have raised millions in speeding fines, it was revealed last year.
More than 60,000 speeding tickets were reportedly issued between junction 30 and 35a of the M1 in Yorkshire in nearly three years, racking in a total of £6,233,700 in enforcements.
Overhead gantry signs on smart motorways tell motorists which lanes they can and cannot use and what the speed limit is
Smart motorways have been developed as a way of increasing capacity and reducing congestion without the more costly process of widening roads
More pressure for smart motorways to be scrapped
Smart motorways have come under immense criticism this week following a BBC Panorama programme that revealed that 38 people have been killed on them in the last five years.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to face questions about their future in the Commons tomorrow after MPs and the police said they were misled about their safety, with some dubbing them ‘death traps’.
Speaking in response to the BBC revelation, Shapps said yesterday: ‘If we can’t have smart motorways that are as safe, or better still safer than conventional motorways, then we should not have them at all.’
The main type of smart motorway receiving the most criticism is All-Lane Running sections, which do not have hard shoulders so an extra lane cane be used on busy routes hampered by heavy congestion levels.
Previous reports have found that many motorists don’t understand how smart motorways work and some have admitted ignoring red X signals that tell drivers a lane is shut
The AA wants smart motorways to have Emergency Refuge Areas more often on sections where there is no hard shoulder
In the place of hard shoulders are Emergency Refuge Areas, which appear every 1.5 miles – which the AA has blasted as being too far apart for motorists with punctures and other forms of vehicle breakdowns.
If drivers can’t reach these refuge areas, they can be stranded in active lanes, putting both occupants and patrol trying to reach them in dangers.
Dynamic Hard Shoulder smart motorways can also switch a hard shoulder into an active lane if traffic levels are high – signalled by instructions to motorists on overhead gantries.
All three types of smart motorway have a default speed limit of 70mph, like any normal motorway in the UK.
However, Highways England can adjust the limit to 60, 50 or 40mph when operatives deem it necessary.
Cameras on smart motorways can catch motorists speeding at any time, even when a lower limit than the standard 70mph is not in force.
What are the three types of ‘smart’ motorways and how do they work?
All lane running schemes permanently remove the hard shoulder and convert it into a running lane.
On these types of motorway, lane one (formerly the hard shoulder) is only closed to traffic in the event of an incident.
In this case a lane closure will be signalled by a red X on the gantry above, meaning you must exit the lane as soon as possible.
All running lane motorways also have overhead gantry signs that display the mandatory speed limit.
Should drivers break down or be involved in an accident there are emergency refuge areas at the side of the carriageway for them to use.
Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but retains a hard shoulder. The hard shoulder should only be used in a genuine emergency.
These variable speed limits are displayed on overhead gantry signs – if no speed limit is displayed the national speed limit is in place. Speed cameras are used to enforce these.
‘Dynamic’ hard shoulder running involves open the hard shoulder as a running lane to traffic at busy periods to ease congestion.
On these stretches a solid white line differentiates the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway. Overhead signs on gantries indicate whether or not the hard shoulder is open to traffic.
The hard shoulder must not be used if the signs over it are blank or display a red X, except in the case of an emergency.
A red X on the gantry above means you must exit the lane as soon as possible.
Overhead gantries on these types of motorway also display the mandatory speed limit which varies depending on the traffic conditions. Speed cameras are used to enforce these – no speed limit displayed indicates the national speed limit is in place.
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