A new education initiative on ‘smart motorways’ has been proposed by UK police chiefs following an 18 per cent rise in the number of people caught driving illegally on the hard shoulder between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that educating drivers on the new rules of 'smart motorways' - which use variable speed limits and allow road users to only drive on the hard shoulder during heavy congestion – would prevent confusion, increase awareness and improve compliance.

The figures, which were obtained by BBC Radio 5 live, found that drivers caught illegally on the hard shoulder gave many reasons for using it, such as using it as “the fastest route between two places”, while others said they used it to locate signage to their destination.

Currently, more than 200 miles of motorway in England and Wales are deemed ‘smart motorways’, including sections of the M25 and M4. Police chiefs are now discussing ideas for education courses aimed at people who have been caught breaking the variable speed limit, driving on closed lanes or driving on the hard shoulder when they shouldn’t be.

Simon Wilson, a senior serious injury solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Leeds office, said: “We opposed the introduction of 'smart motorways' back in 2015 as we foresaw the safety risks it presented. But, despite its own assessments stating that removing access to the hard shoulder would increase the risk of road accidents by three times, the government ploughed ahead with its plans.

“The rise in people illegally using the hard shoulder is deeply concerning, as these are vital parts of our infrastructure that should only be used in the event of an emergency.

“Although introducing education courses for offending drivers will, we hope, help reiterate the rules of 'smart motorways', it’s going to take more action from the government to prevent this 18 per cent increase in the illegal use of the hard shoulder rising further.”