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What exactly are Smart Motorways?


Smart motorways have been popping up all across the UK since the Highways Agency started using the term in 2013, with a new study by BBC One Show showcasing their benefits.



What exactly are Smart Motorways?

Join van hire and leasing specialist Northgate as they delve into the past, present and future of smart motorways:

What is a smart motorway?

Before we delve into the effectiveness of smart motorways, first let’s take a look at just what they are.

Each stretch of smart motorway makes use of technology which actively manages traffic flow, with this technology operated by a regional traffic control centre near to the route. Traffic is carefully monitored at these control centres, whereby officials are able to activate or alter signs and speed limits on the smart motorways in an attempt to always keep traffic flowing freely.

Top tips for driving on a smart motorway

If you have never driven on a smart motorway before, here’s what you should bear in mind:

·       First and foremost, never drive in a lane that has a sign with a red ‘X’ over it — this means that the lane is closed. You risk a fine if you remain driving along this lane.

·       If you see a solid white line between two lanes, this indicates the hard shoulder — you shouldn’t drive in the hard shoulder unless directed to do so.

·       If you see a broken white line between two lanes, this indicates a normal running lane — you can always drive in these lanes unless you see the red ‘X’ sign overhead.

·       The current speed limits of the lanes are shown on the gantries above — you should always match that limit.

·       You should exit a smart motorway as soon as it is safe to do so if your vehicle experiences difficulties, such as a warning light appearing on your dashboard.

·       When the hard shoulder is being used for normal traffic, you should only use the emergency refuge area (ERA) for an emergency. These are identified by a sign that is blue and features an orange SOS telephone symbol.

·       If you break down before being able to exit a smart motorway or reach a refuge area, you must switch your hazard lights on and wait for assistance to arrive.

How effective and safe are smart motorways?

The effectiveness and safety of smart motorways were measured by the aforementioned BBC One Show study, which analysed eleven sections of smart motorway found on stretches of the M1, M4, M6, M25 and M42.

"If you see a broken white line between two lanes, this indicates a normal running lane you can always drive in these lanes unless you see the red X sign overhead."
Northgate Vehicle Hire



According to the research, there were 52,516 fixed penalty fines issued on these routes in 2015 as a result of drivers exceeding the speed limit. On the same stretches of the motorway between 2010 and 2011, only 2,023 fixed penalty fines were issued for the offence — illustrating a 2,500 per cent increase over the past five years.

The BBC One Show also calculated from the data that it had collected that the revenue that went to central government has risen from £150,600 five years ago to over £1.1 million last year.

The future of smart motorways

There is already in excess of 230 miles of smart motorway stretching across the UK. However, Highways England is currently designing many more miles of these routes through the following plans:

Current smart motorway work

·       The route between junctions 19 and 16 of the M1 in the East Midlands is being turned into a smart motorway, with work set to be complete in spring 2017.

·       The route between junctions 32 and 35a of the M1 in the North of England is being turned into a smart motorway, with work set to be complete in spring 2017.

·       The route between junctions 2 and 4a of the M3 in the South East of England is being turned into a smart motorway, with work set to be complete in summer 2017.

·       The route between junctions 4a and 6 of the M5 in the West Midlands is being turned into an ‘all lane running’ smart motorway, with work set to be complete in spring 2017.

·       The route between junctions 16 and 19 of the M6 in the North West of England is being turned into a smart motorway, with work set to be complete in spring 2018.

·       The route between junction 8 of the M60 and junction 20 of the M62 in the North West of England is being turned into a smart motorway, with work set to be complete in autumn 2017.

Planned smart motorway work

·       There is a proposal to develop the route between junctions 23a and 25 of the M1 in the East Midlands into a smart motorway. If granted, the work will begin in early 2017 and is planned to be completed by late 2018.

·       There is a proposal to develop the route between junctions 3 and 12 of the M4 in the South East of England into a smart motorway. If granted, the work will begin in spring 2017 and is planned to be completed by spring 2022.

·       There is a proposal to develop the route between junctions 13 and 15 of the M6 in the West Midlands into a smart motorway. If granted, the work will begin in spring 2018 and is planned to be completed by spring 2020.

Further details of all future smart motorways across the UK can be found on the Highways England website.




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