An initiative to improve safety on the M4 and M5 motorways in south-west England has caught 240 offenders over a two-week period. These included one driver who decided to bypass a traffic jam on the northbound M5 by driving down the hard shoulder – an area reserved for emergencies such as breakdowns.

The Renault Captur driver used the hard shoulder to avoid three lanes of stationary traffic between junction 24 for Bridgwater and junction 23 for Highbridge. However, the car was caught on camera by one of the unmarked police ‘supercab’ HGV tractor units, which are used to film offences, then direct conventional police vehicles to intercept the driver.

The supercabs have been in use across the UK since 2015, as part of the multi-agency Operation Tramline initiative. The scheme has seen police forces employing the unmarked National Highways’ HGV cabs on regular safety operations across the strategic road network, including a recent operation on the M25 around London.

But Operation Tramline’s two-week stint in the south-west of England, known as Operation Peninsula, saw 192 vehicles stopped by police, including 77 HGVs and 78 private vehicles. Some drivers were given advice or fixed penalty notices, while five arrests were made.

The most common recorded offence was using a handheld mobile phone while driving, with 64 motorists caught using their hand-held devices illegally or resting on their laps. Failing to wear a seatbelt was the second most common offence, with 41 people seen driving without buckling up, while 23 speeding offences were recorded.

National Highways, the government-run company in charge of the country’s motorways and major A-roads, said it normally has to deal with huge numbers of collisions on the M4 and M5, with the former recording 526 collisions in 2019 and the latter racking up 821 collisions. However, the organisation says Operation Peninsula saw a 20-percent drop in the number of incidents and traffic collisions for the same period from the pre-pandemic figures of 2019.

“Our aim through this campaign was to make not only the M5 and M4 but all of our roads in the South West safer by raising awareness and encouraging motorists to consider their driving behaviour,” said National Highways’ head of road safety, Jeremy Phillips. “The HGV cabs helped the police to identify hundreds of dangerous drivers who could have caused collisions and harm if they hadn’t been pulled over. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency also intervened to take dangerous vehicles off the road, and our safety advice given at motorway services and through the campaign also helped.

“We are confident that, working together with our road safety partners, this campaign has helped spread our safety messages to drivers but also raised awareness that those who engage in high risk behaviours can expect to be spotted and, if an offence has been committed, action will be taken by our enforcement partners.”

Woman on phone pulled over by police