Smart motorways were introduced by the government to help ease congestion and improve overall journeys. They utilise technology to help ease the flow of traffic as well as improving safety and speeding. The technology is managed from a regional control centre and they can either open or close extra lanes to allow traffic to flow most efficiently and reduce journey times in commuting hours.
Here’s a brief overview of smart motorways from Highways England
How to use a smart motorway
When driving on a smart motorway one must treat it as a normal motorway. A main difference however is the use of technology in the signs above the motorway. If a lane has a red X above it, like the sign suggests you shouldn’t drive in it and move out of the way as soon as it is safe too. The lane may be closed to allow an emergency service vehicle to get through quickly, an animal or person may be on the road or their may be debris that is being cleared. Even if someone else drives down that lane, do not follow them, they are breaking the law.
If you see a speed sign, then adjust your speed safely. If there’s a lot of traffic on the road or it is busier than normal then the traffic control centre will adjust the speed limit to allow everyone to drive at an optimum speed. As much as you want to floor it, the speed limits on a smart motorway are legally enforceable and there’s enough speed cameras around to do the trick.
Breakdowns, while they are horrible to deal with anyway, can be worse on a smart motorway. As there are no hard shoulders, you have to pull into an emergency refuge area although these are situated every now and then. Once you’ve got to a safe space, phone Highways england before you phone your insurance as they will be able to best advise you on the course of action and can close lanes to make the recovery easier.
History of smart motorways
In 2014, the government introduced a plan to convert a stretch of the M4 between Junction 3 (Hayes) and Junction 12 (Theale). Converting this stretch requires four years work, with work planning to start in Autumn 2018 and continue to Spring 2022. Across the country numerous stretches of motorways have been converted into smart motorways.