Smart Motorways Explained by James Baggott, Author, Car Dealer Magazine

Smart Motorways are being created across the UK. Here’s how to drive on them.

Vast swathes of UK roads are being transformed into ‘Smart Motorways’. They are cited as the solution for congestion, with the hard shoulder being used as a live lane and overhead gantries displaying variable speed limits with cameras enforcing them.

Highways England says the introduction of Smart Motorways has ‘increased journey reliability’ and reduced personal injury accidents. But this new network requires a new way of driving, as well as a better understanding of what the overhead signs mean.

Are there different types of Smart Motorway?

There are, and different types of Smart Motorway are dotted throughout the country.

The first is a controlled motorway, which retains its hard shoulder for emergency use. The remaining lanes are subject to variable speed limits, which are displayed on overhead gantries, and enforced by speed cameras. If no speed limit is displayed, then the national speed limit is in place.

Then there are all-lane-running sections of motorway, where all lanes are live, and there isn’t a hard shoulder. In the event of an incident, a red ‘X’ is displayed above the closed lane. Any driver who ignores this will receive a £100 fine and three penalty points on their licence. Again, overhead speed limits are enforced by cameras.

Finally, you’ve got a dynamic hard shoulder, which can be opened to live traffic during periods of congestion, with overhead gantry signs showing whether or not it can be used. It shouldn’t be used if the signs above the lane are blank or displaying a red ‘X’. Again, this is enforced by the overhead cameras.

What happens if I break down on a motorway with no hard shoulder?

Look out for an emergency refuge area (ERA), denoted by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol, and dotted at 1.5 mile intervals along the highway.

If you’re unable to get to an ERA, you should attempt to get onto the verge (providing there is no barrier), switch on your hazard lights and exit the vehicle safely via the nearside door. If you can’t get to the nearside of the motorway safely, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt securely fastened.

If you can get out of the car, contact Highways England via one of the phones placed in the ERA. However, if you can’t exit the vehicle, you need to call 999 from your mobile.

Can I get caught for speeding even if a limit isn’t displayed above the road?

Highways England states that: “All mandatory speed limits are enforced by police, as is the national speed limit of 70mph when no speeds are shown. If you break the speed limits you will be caught.” The best advice is simply not to exceed the speed limit.

Do Smart Motorways actually work?

According to Highways England, Smart Motorways are helping to keep roads moving. Published statistics say that journey reliability has improved by 22 per cent and personal injury accidents have been reduced by more than half. Highways England also says that where accidents did occur, their severity was much lower overall.