Smart motorways – what to be aware of

In the UK, smart motorways use technology to actively manage the flow of traffic. The technology is controlled from a regional traffic control centre. The control centres monitor traffic carefully and can activate and change signs and speed limits. This helps keep the traffic flowing freely.

Smart motorways also increase the capacity of the road, without the expense and hassle of widening the road, by either temporarily or permanently opening the hard shoulder to traffic.

However, recent statistics show that motorists across the UK have faced up to £526 million in fines, after 210,538 drivers have been caught exceeding the speed limit on smart motorways since 2013. They have been caught mainly because of variable speed limits which means that the speed limit can drop from speeds of 70mph to just 20mph. 6% of motorists have been caught speeding in these zones, with 78% of these drivers claiming they did not realise a change in speed was being enforced at the time.

In addition, 27% of motorists don’t appear to know what variable speed cameras are and 19% admit that they are often unsure if the speed limit is advisory or compulsory.

How do you know you are on a smart motorway?

There will be overhead gantries which indicate the speed which is allowed at the time. These might stretch across the whole motorway or there may also be large nearside signs. Speed limits can vary: 70, 60, 50, 40, 30 or even 20 mph. You must not exceed the limit that is being displayed at the time. Other identifiers are a hard shoulder which can be opened or closed, depending on the driving conditions. If there is a red X displayed over a lane of the motorway, this means that you must not proceed in that lane. You can be prosecuted if you do. There will also be digital speed cameras, CCTV cameras and emergency refuges

What types of smart motorways are there?

  1. All lane running schemes: these use the hard shoulder permanently as a running lane for traffic
  2. Controlled motorway: these have 3 or more lanes with variable speed limits but still keeps the hard shoulder as a place for vehicles to stop in a genuine emergency
  3. Dynamic hard shoulder running schemes: these have the hard shoulder as a running lane to traffic in busy periods to ease congestion. A solid white line separates the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway. Overhead signs on gantries indicate whether or not the hard shoulder is open to traffic at that time.

 
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 (e.g. warning light) exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
  • Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there is no hard shoulder
  • Put your hazard lights on if you break down

 
All figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll research