What Is A Smart Motorway and How Do I Drive On One?

Monday, June 19, 2017

driving safely on a smart motorwayThe term ‘smart motorway’ was officially introduced by the highways agency in 2013. These motorways are designed to control speeding, detect broken down vehicles and control hard shoulder closures in accordance with the volume of traffic on the roads.

For many drivers, there will hardly seem any difference between these ‘smart’ motorways and regular motorways. So what makes them ‘smart’ and how do you drive on one safely?

Features Of Smart Motorways

There are 3 basic types of smart motorway, ‘controlled motorways’ that use cameras to manage the flow of traffic on the roads. ‘Hard shoulder running’ motorways, where the hard shoulder is turned into a lane during busy periods and ‘all lanes running’ where the hard shoulder is a permanent lane and only closed in the event of an obstruction.

Of these 3 types of smart motorways, all have a number of different features designed to aid drivers and prevent accidents, some of the key features include

CCTV fed into regional control centres - these are used to catch speeders and monitor traffic levels and incidents.
Variable speed limits – these will appear in signs above the motorway and can be used to slow traffic down in the case of an incident.
Overhead or near side information signs - these warn drivers of upcoming traffic, an accident in the road or a lane closure.
Emergency refuge areas – these are found at regular intervals and act as a refuge point for drivers where the hard shoulder is in use. These laybys are not long enough to gain enough speed to rejoin the motorway so stranded drivers will need to contact the motorways control centre.

How To Drive On A Smart Motorway

For drivers, there won't seem to be much difference between a smart motorway and a regular motorway. However, the most important change is the overhead signs which display warnings and variable speed limits – it's important you keep an eye on these as you can be caught out speeding or cause an accident if not.

You may notice a red X above a lane, this means the lane is being closed, usually due to a stranded vehicle, it is dangerous and you can be fined for driving in these lanes so you must ensure you move over as soon as you are safely able to do so.

Take a look at this video from Highways England to see what a red X looks like when activated.

Additionally, you may notice drivers using the hard shoulder as the slow lane – again, unless on an ‘all lanes running’ smart motorway this will be signalled by the overhead signs so it's important to stay aware.

If you’re concerned about driving on the motorway - you’re not alone! Take a look at our guide to driving safely on the motorway, for some handy tips and things to bear in mind.  

What To Do If You Break Down On A Smart Motorway

Breaking down on a smart motorway can be a particularly worrying thought for drivers, as there isn’t always a hard shoulder to take refuge on and emergency points can be up to 1.5 miles away.

However, the constant monitoring of these roads means you can expect a prompt response from the control centres. If you do break down, you should:

If you can get to the refuge point: you should put your hazards on and use the telephone that will direct you through to the Highways England control centre who will advise you from there.

If you are unable to do so: if you can't make it to the refuge centre, you should put your hazards on and make your way to the left-hand lane. The operators in the control rooms should then be able to spot you and close the lane you are stranded in.

Highways England recommended that you leave your car (if you can do so safely) by the left-hand side door then wait behind the safety barrier.

Avoid Unexpected Breakdowns With Autocare

Smart motorways are designed to prevent speeding, congestion and accidents, as well as having features in place to divert traffic around broken down cars as there is no hard shoulder.

To reduce the chances of a breakdown, before any long journey you should check your tyre pressure, oil levels and brake & screen fluid levels - regularly servicing your vehicle also significantly reduces the chance of an unexpected breakdown.

If you need to book your vehicle in for a service or have any questions regarding smart motorways, give one of our team a call on 01291 627 137 or get in touch here.

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