Motorists may not be cut any slack when it comes to the 70mph limit thanks to the roll-out of motorway speed cameras.
Drivers on motorways around the UK are facing a much greater risk of being fined for exceeding the 70mph speed limit due to the roll-out of the Smart motorways scheme.
What is a smart motorway?
Smart motorways, which so far include parts of the M2, M6 and M25, control traffic using a series of overhead gantries with variable speed-limit signs and speed cameras.
They were introduced by the Highways Agency in 2013 for use on particularly congested parts of the road network.
At times hard shoulders are used as an extra lane, and central lanes can be used by traffic travelling in either direction depending on the time of day.
Highways England has just confirmed that final testing is about to start on a 20-mile Smart motorway stretch of the M1 in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
This is just the latest part of the network to be upgraded in this way.
But although the schemes are intended to keep traffic moving more freely and cut journey times, there could be a sting in the tail for some drivers.
Official figures show that the new cameras installed on Smart motorways are not only being used to catch motorists who exceed lower speed limits.
Those who go a little over the 70mph limit at times when reduced limits are not in force are also being caught out.
Critics say that this approach is unfair – firstly because the cameras are painted grey and are harder to spot.
Also, evidence suggests that motorway driving is relatively safe and travelling slightly over the 70mph limit is unlikely to create a significantly higher risk of an accident.
Guidance gives leeway
Guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) says that motorway drivers should be given some leeway and only fined or stopped for driving at over 79mph.
This policy is not legally binding but is usually followed by most of the country’s police forces.
Paul Watters at the AA added that drivers should be given the option of attending a speeding-awareness course rather than being fined, unless caught going over 86mph.
“Motorways are the safest roads – only about 4% of accidents happen on them,” he said.
Should limit be strictly enforced?
However, Watters added, the safety and effectiveness of Smart motorways depended on drivers observing the speed limits.
“While we cannot expect the police and Highways Agency to divulge exactly what the strategy is we would like to think that speed enforcement on motorways is safety and not revenue-related.
“But if everything is safe, the roads are clear and the national speed limit is set, there isn’t the same justification to enforce the limit.”
Roger Lawson from the Alliance of British Drivers said: “These cameras are not painted yellow: they are basically concealed and are set to trigger fines for anyone who breaks the 70mph speed limit.”
No safety benefits
Lawson added, “If there is a particularly dangerous stretch of road, speed cameras can be useful if people see them and slow down.
“But that is not the case here because drivers don’t know the cameras are there.”
Figures show that speeding on the motorways is very widespread – 46% of drivers break 70mph limit in free-flowing conditions according to Department for Transport’s 2014 figures.
But a recent study by the RAC found that motorway speeding was even more common.
The organisation’s Report on Motoring 2015 found that 70% of motorists admit to breaking the 70mph limit “regularly or occasionally” while two-thirds support raising the limit to 80mph at least.
Around 11% of drivers go at 80mph or more, the DfT also found.
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