What makes you so smart?

In this blog, we take a look at Smart Motorways, what they are, where they are and what makes them different.

What is a Smart Motorway?

Sections of motorways across Britain have been designated ‘smart’ because they use digital technology to control traffic flow. The traffic is monitored by cameras and managed by a combination of variable speed limits and adaptable lanes. Unlike standard motorways with a fixed speed limit and three lanes, a smart motorway’s speed limits are varied by overhead gantries, while green and red overhead signs show whether drivers can drive in the hard shoulder at busy times.

When did they start?

The first flexibly controlled motorway stretch was part of the M42 in 2006. The technology was gradually introduced on other motorways after that but the term ‘smart motorways’ was only introduced by the Highways Agency in 2013.

Where are they?

Complete smart motorways are currently on the M1 (j10-13), M4 (j19-20), M5 (j15-17), M6 (j4-10a), M42 (j3a-7) and M62 (j26-30).

There are also many sections of partial smart motorways, featuring either variable limits or hard-shoulder running. More are under construction and even more are planned for the coming years.

Why are smart motorways important for business drivers?

The aim is to create smoother traffic flows and more reliable journey times to make business journeys more efficient. The admirable by-product has been a huge reduction in accidents, noise and pollution. The Highways Agency’s own research shows accident casualties have reduced by 61% where smart motorways have been established. At the same time the majority of road users asked approved of the measures.

What do drivers have to do on a smart motorway?

There are specific rules for these managed sections that all drivers should be aware of. They include:

  • Never drive under a red X
  • Follow the speed limits shown on gantries
  • Don’t drive on the hard shoulder unless directed
  • If there is no hard shoulder use the emergency refuge areas
  • Immediately use your hazard lights if you breakdown

Where can I find out more?

The government’s website contains a complete guide to the new smart motorways.

The leading motoring organisation and Allstar partner, the AA, has produced an online guide to smart motorways here.