Police chiefs said the new road rules were confusing motorists and more awareness was needed and have proposed classes similar to those for first time speeding offenders.
Figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 live suggest an 18% rise in the number of people caught using the hard shoulder illegally between 2014-15 and 2015-16.
There are currently more than 200 miles of smart motorway in England and Wales with another 200 miles either planned or under construction. Current smart motorways include sections of the M25, M6, M4 and M1.
LeasePlan UK – one of the world’s largest vehicle management companies – has reacted:
Lesley Slater, Operations and Business Development Director, LeasePlan UK said, “Changes to the motorway will bring new rules and regulations for motorists to learn and abide by.
“It is important for drivers to take responsibility for their own safety by staying up to date with any new laws introduced.
“Confusion around what is and what is not legal on the motorway is compounded by the fact that drivers are not allowed to drive on the motorway until passing their practical driving test.
“This is right from a driver safety perspective but as it isn’t mandatory to have an additional motorway driving lesson, this can lead to gaps in knowledge, confidence and experience.”
LeasePlan’s top 5 motorway myth-busters
- Any vehicle can drive in the right-hand lane – If you are towing a trailer, or you’re driving a goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight over 7.5 tonnes, it is illegal for you to drive in the right hand lane on a motorway.
- The left hand lane is the lorry lane – A recent study by the AA showed that 9% of 18-24-year-old drivers thought that the left hand lane was the “lorry lane,” only to be used by those driving a lorry. In actual fact, all drivers should keep left at all times, unless they are overtaking. If the road ahead is clear, stay left. This also applies if you are travelling via the middle lane, which is illegal unless you are overtaking.
- There is no national speed limit on the motorway – This is absolutely untrue. Many people believe that you can legally travel at speeds of 80 or 90 miles per hour. The maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and even less at 60 miles per hour for vehicles over 7.5tonnes or those towing a caravan or trailer. Lower speed limits may apply either as a fixed lower speed or variable speed limit due to congestion.
Refuge areas are also usually provided adjacent to the smart motorway hard shoulder, as around southeast Birmingham and along the M4 east of Bristol.
- If you break down by the side of the motorway and there’s an animal in the car, you can remove it – It is generally well known that if you should breakdown on the motorway, and pull up onto the hard shoulder, that you and any passengers should get out of the vehicle. You should then stay safe behind the barrier and not attempt to get back in your car. However, perhaps surprisingly to some, this truth is not the same for your pet. Any animal should be left in the vehicle; in case it should run out onto the road.
- You can stop on the hard shoulder if you are ill or need the toilet – The hard shoulder is for emergencies only. This includes a vehicle breakdown, if you are asked to pull over by the police or if you are directed to do so by signage. Many people believe you are legally able to stop if you or a passenger feels unwell, or needs the toilet. However, due to the high level of safety risk that stopping on the hard shoulder presents, this is not the case. If you feel unwell you should continue to the next exit, and pull over when you can find somewhere safe and legal to park.