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Adam Jolley

Drivers fined £526m from smart motorway cameras

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Drivers have been stung with millions of pounds in fines after being caught out by sudden drops in speed on UK motorways.

Smart motorway variable speed limit

Since the first variable speed cameras were installed on motorways in 2013, motorists have paid £526 million in fines for speeding. 

That’s according to new research by Confused.com.

Variable speed cameras are used on motorways to enforce temporary speed limits. 

The aim is to reduce congestion and improve safety at times when a reduction in the standard 70mph limit is deemed necessary, such as during poor weather conditions. 

Speed limit can drop to 20mph

Along stretches of road where the cameras operate, the speed limit can be reduced from 70mph to as low as 20mph.

In total, 210,538 drivers have been caught exceeding the limit since the cameras were first brought into operation.

And it’s likely the number of fines will rise even further.

More variable speed zones planned across the UK as part of so-called smart motorway schemes.

M4 J19 – J20 a speeding hot-spot

Despite the purported safety benefits, the cameras have been met with muted enthusiasm across the country.

This may be of little surprise given Freedom of Information data obtained by Confused.com reveals just how many motorists are getting caught out.

Cameras on the stretch of the M4 between J19 and J20 in both directions have collected 40,320 penalty notices between 2015 and 2016. 

This is more than any other variable speed camera point in the UK. 

This is followed by cameras on the M5 between J16 in Almondsbury and J17 in Easter Compton with 27,398 penalty notices. 

Meanwhile, cameras on the M1 between J10 and J11 at Luton have resulted in 21,751 penalty notices being issued.

Safety implications

However, it’s not just fines and penalty points that are impacting drivers.

Many people are questioning the safety implications associated with variable speed cameras. 

A total of 2,840 accidents were recorded in variable speed camera zones across the UK since the first cameras were installed in 2013. 

Of these, 1,772 were recorded by Surrey Police on the M25 between J9 and J16 where cameras were installed in 2014.

Sudden braking

It seems drivers think the unpredictable change in speed caused by these cameras is to blame for some of these accidents. 

Two in five (40%) drivers say that variable speed cameras cause motorists to brake more suddenly. 

And over a quarter (28%) say there’s not enough notice before a change in speed. 

Over a third (33%) would go as far as to say that the sudden change in speed in these variable zones is dangerous.

However, some may argue variable cameras are simply doing what they’re supposed to.

The research suggests that many of the drivers caught are regular speeders – on average having been caught twice by variable cameras.

Drivers warned to keep their distance

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “There seems to be a perception among drivers that variable speed cameras on smart motorways are there to catch people out.

“And it’s no surprise with up to £526 million in fines issued last year alone.

“We’d advise drivers to research their route before heading out to take note of any areas where there may be a dramatic drop in speed. 

“Keeping a considerable distance between your own car and the car in front can also help to avoid any sudden braking.”

Tips for driving on a smart motorway

- Never drive in a lane closed by a red ‘X’.
- Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries.
- A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed.
- A broken white line indicates a normal running lane.
- If your vehicle experiences difficulties (eg warning light displays), exit the smart motorway immediately if possible.
- Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder.
- Put your hazard lights on if you break down.

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