The Highway Code will have a much-needed update to include information about smart motorways as drivers raised concerns that it failed to mention these types of roads, which in turn have been heavily criticised following a number of fatal crashes.
Highways England says a republish of the motoring bible will ‘make roads even safer’ following input from thousands of motorists, motoring groups and transport organisations who had pointed out the lack of references to motorways without hard shoulders.
That’s despite the first smart motorway in Britain being introduced back in 2006.
The Government agency says it has drafted updated guidance for The Highway Code with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to help road users better understand how motorways and high-speed roads operate.
Highway Code to highlight smart motorways: The bible for motorists will be updated with information about how fast-moving roads without hard shoulders operate and how to navigate them
More than 3,200 people and organisations responded to a consultation on the guidance, with their comments directly leading to it being amended and improved.
The amendments are expected to become part of The Highway Code later this year.
It comes after a recent poll of 14,044 drivers found that almost three quarters said the guide for motorists is in need of an urgent update to include more information on smart motorways.
It will come some 15 years after the first smart motorway became operational, with a section of the M42 in the West Midlands allowing motorists to use the hard shoulder during busy periods since 2006.
Smart motorways are designed to ease congestion on the most commonly used transport routes.
They have sensors, signs and cameras to monitor and manage traffic with instructions about lane closures being given to motorists via overhead gantries.
Some have a hard shoulder but most don’t, which is the biggest cause of concern.
A number of deaths on these road types in recent years has seen the Government and law makers face mounting criticism about the safety of having no hard shoulders and inadequate spacing on Emergency Refuge Areas for motorists to use when they cars breakdown on the nation’s fastest-moving roads.
Almost three quarters of motorists polled by the AA said they want the Highway Code to provide more information about Smart motorways and how to use them
There has also been calls for improvements to the technology used to detect vehicles that become stranded in a live lane, with a recent Highway England report finding it takes on average 17 minutes for a stationary motor to be reached by a highways vehicle.
A massive 72 per cent of drivers polled by the AA in May said they want the Highway Code to include far more detail about smart motorways, which now cover 500 miles in the UK, with the majority in England and managed by Highway England.
They now account for around 7 per cent of the Strategic Road Network but carry 16 per cent of its annual traffic.
These motorways, many of which do away with hard shoulders, have faced increasing scrutiny in recent years as motorists and organisations fear they are putting people in unnecessary and avoidable danger.
AA president, Edmund King, has been campaigning for years for widespread improvements to make smart motorways safer.
Giving evidence at a transport select committee meeting in May, he said he would recommend motorists continue driving their cars with a punctured tyre rather than stopping in a live lane of a smart motorway and hope that operators will close that lane before another motorists collides into your vehicle.
Mr King said: ‘The official advice is: if you do stop in the live lane, keep your seatbelt on, put your hazards and other lights on, and dial 999. It’s an emergency.
‘It is horrific the fear that comes through on the calls we get from breakdowns.
‘It’s just atrocious and we should not be putting people in a system that isn’t a safe system with that result. We’ve got to give people a way out of it and the advice I would give is: drive on [if you can].
‘Damage to your car may be expensive but it’s less than damage to yourself or your loved ones.’
He added: ‘If someone is breaking down and they’re on an all-lane running section [which have no hard shoulder] – so smoke coming out of the engine and a blown out tyre – I’ve got to say my advice would be don’t stop.
A emergency refuge area on the M3 smart motorway near Camberley in Surrey. The motorways have yellow ‘Emergency Refuge Areas’ for drivers to use, though motoring groups warn they are too spaced out to be a safe alternative to permanent hard shoulders
The AA’s president, Edmund King (pictured), has been campaigning for years for widespread improvements to make smart motorways safer
‘There is too much of a risk to stop. So even if it ruins your wheel, I would drive on to the next refuge area or emergency exit.’
Mr King added it was a ‘scandal’ that some smart motorways had been rolled out without any of the potentially life-saving radar technology designed to detect vehicles that had broken down.
Highways England has promised to have this fitted across the whole network no later than September next year, having brought the deadline forward from 2023.
And as part of increased efforts the agency confirmed in the last few days that the soon-to-be-republished edition of the Highway Code will include ‘clearer advice’ on how and where to stop on a smart motorway in a case of emergency, including the importance of not driving in a lane that has been closed with a red ‘X’ sign displayed and, for the first time, emergency area signage.
It includes the ‘Go left’ messaging used in Highways England’s recent £5million advertising campaign to help people know what to do in the event of a breakdown.
A stricken motorists’ car is pictured being rescued from an ERA by a recovery vehicle
The Highway Code will also give guidance on the use of variable speed limits to manage congestion and information on how safety cameras are used to ensure compliance with speed limits and closed lanes, including the hard shoulder.
The update will also address key factors that contribute to safety-related incidents, including driving while tired, unroadworthy vehicles, safe towing, tailgating and driving through roadworks.
Jeremy Phillips, Highways England’s head of road safety, said: ‘The updates to The Highway Code will help everyone who uses our busiest roads.
‘Thanks to the input from road users, we have been able to produce clearer guidance on how to use our motorways and major A-roads which will make journeys even safer.
‘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.’
The much-needed update to the motoring bible comes as The Highway Code turns 90 years old, having been first published in 1931, costing road users one penny and contained just 18 pages.
Today, it can be picked up for £2 to 2.50 at a number of major bookshops and is nearly nine times’ the size, with 152 pages in the 2021 edition.
In total, 33 existing rules will be amended for 2021 and two new rules will be introduced.
‘There will also be a number of amendments made to the additional information within The Highway Code and its annexes,’ says Highways England.
The 1931 Highway Code
The first edition of the Highway Code was published in 1931.
It cost 1 old penny and was the only version to carry advertisements.
The AA, Autocar magazine, Motorcycle magazine, Castrol Motor Oil, BP, Motor Union Insurance and the RAC all had ads in the first edition.
It was made up of just 18 pages of advice (there are 152 pages for the current iteration).
The advice given to road users including how drivers of horse drawn vehicles should ‘rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made’.
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