Fewer than half of motorists know the rules for using smart motorways, a survey suggests.
Just one in four (27 per cent) of drivers say they are aware of what a smart motorway is but do not know the relevant regulations, according to the poll by road safety charity Brake and breakdown recovery firm Green Flag.
A further quarter (25 per cent) of the 2,010 drivers questioned said they do not even know what a smart motorway is, let alone what the rules are.
Smart motorways are roads where the hard shoulder is closed and turned into a 'live lane' of traffic to increase capacity.
Fewer than half of motorists know the rules for using smart motorways, a survey suggests
There are currently more than 20 sections of 'smart motorways' on seven different motorways
Jason Mercer (left), 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu (right), 22, died when a lorry ploughed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield on June 7 last year
|Yes, I know what a smart motorway is and, yes, I know the rules for driving on one||48%||52%||34%||23%||24%|
|Yes, I know what a smart motorway is but no I don't know the rules for driving on one||27%||27%||30%||28%||19%|
|No, I don't know what a smart motorway is and I don't know the rules for driving on one||25%||21%||36%||49%||56%|
They use various methods to manage the flow of traffic, including variable speed limits and red X symbols to alert drivers to a closed lane.
Drivers are also urged to use refuge areas when possible if they suffer an emergency or breakdown, rather than stopping in live lanes.
However, there are concerns large numbers of drivers are unaware of the rules.
BBC Panorama found at least 38 people have died on stretches of smart motorways in the past five years.
A lorry driver was jailed for 10 months last week for causing the deaths of two men in a collision on a stretch of smart motorway.
Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba, 40, ploughed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on June 7 last year.
Do you know the rules for driving on smart motorways?
Drivers on smart motorways are subject to the same laws as those travelling on any other roads.
However, the inclusion of variable speed limits and more speed cameras may catch some drivers out and lead to legal penalties.
If no speed limit is displayed on a smart motorway, the national speed limit (70mph) applies.
Speed cameras will still be in place to enforce variable speed limits, so anyone breaking the law can still be caught speeding and receive a £2,500 fine.
Signs over closed lanes may also display an illuminated red 'X'.
This is to indicate that the lane is closed.
Ignoring these signs and continuing to use the lane can lead to a £100 fine and three penalty points.
An 'evidence stocktake' published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in March stated the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on smart motorways than conventional motorways - but the chance of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle is higher when the hard shoulder is removed.
It led to an 18-point action plan that included installing more places to stop in an emergency and faster roll-out of a radar-based system to detect broken-down vehicles.
Highways England insists smart motorways are 'at least as safe as, or safer than, the conventional motorways they replaced'.
The smart motorway network covers around 500 miles in England, with an additional 300 miles planned by 2025.
Brake director of campaigns Joshua Harris said: 'Drivers are confused about the rules of driving on smart motorways and communication efforts must urgently be stepped up to help avoid more tragic incidents on these roads.
'We welcome the measures the Government has outlined to improve smart motorway safety and urge them to follow this evidence-led approach for all UK roads.
'With more than 75 deaths and serious injuries on our roads every day, improving road safety must be a priority for this Government.'
Green Flag head of service delivery Damon Jowett said: 'While the smart motorways system allows for drivers to get to their destination more easily, understanding of the rules is paramount to ensure road safety.
'Our latest report has highlighted concerning gaps in driver awareness.'
What is a smart motorway, what are the benefits and are they safe?
Smart motorways have led to safety concerns, but highways bosses insist they are an effective way of boosting capacity. Here the PA news agency answers 12 key questions about the roads:
What is a smart motorway?
Smart motorways involve various methods to manage the flow of traffic, including variable speed limits and using the hard shoulder as a live running lane.
How many are there?
Motorways with sections where the hard shoulder has been removed include the M1, M4, M5, M6, M25 and M62.
The RAC says the smart motorway network will cover around 500 miles this year, with an additional 300 miles planned by 2025.
Projects under construction include the M4 between Junctions 3 and 12, and the M1 between Junctions 13 and 16.
What are the benefits?
They are designed to increase capacity without the more disruptive and costly process of widening carriageways.
Are smart motorways safe?
Concerns have been raised about incidents where vehicles stopped in traffic are hit from behind.
But Highways England insists they are 'at least as safe as, or safer than, the conventional motorways they replaced'.
What does the data show?
An 'evidence stocktake' published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in March stated that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on smart motorways than conventional motorways, but the chance of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle is higher when the hard shoulder is removed.
BBC Panorama found that at least 38 people have died on stretches of smart motorways in the past five years.
What was the result of this report?
An 18-point action plan included installing more places to stop in an emergency and faster roll-out of a radar-based system to detect broken-down vehicles.
What happens if I break down on a smart motorway without a hard shoulder?
Drivers are advised to pull into an emergency refuge area (ERA) if possible.
How frequent are they?
They were initially up to 2.5km (1.6 miles) apart, but for smart motorways designed from this year, they are no more than 1.6km (one mile) apart.
What if I can't reach an ERA or leave my vehicle safely?
If you come to a standstill in a live lane, call 999, switch on your hazard warning lights and stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on.
What happens next?
Once Highways England is alerted to a stopped vehicle in a live lane, overhead gantries will display a red X to indicate the lane is closed.
Are smart motorways used in other European countries?
The vast majority of motorway-style roads in Europe have a permanent emergency lane.
What do drivers think about them?
An AA poll of 15,000 motorists suggested only one in 10 drivers feel safer on smart motorways without a hard shoulder than traditional motorways.
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.