Smart Motorways

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 required four years work. Across the country numerous stretches of motorways have now been converted into smart motorways, the M42 near Birmingham was one of the first complete stretches of smart motorway in 2018, with sections now on the M1, M6 and M25.

Seven more smart motorways to come

SEVEN more controversial smart motorways are announced as the government reveals a specialist unit to accelerate road upgrades. Around 4,000 miles of road will be converted into smart motorways, which includes having the hard shoulder removed. The unit, called (rather fittingly) the Acceleration Unit, will be part of the Department for Transport (DfT). The head of the unit, Darren Shirley, who is currently chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, will answer directly to transport secretary Grant Shapps. The unit is set to be up and running within a month.

According to The Times, the motorways likely to be converted are the M62, M6, M56, the M40 and M42 interchange, A1(M), M25 and the M3. This will mean that the total number of stretches of smart motorway will rise to 60 by the middle of the decade, despite widespread criticism of their safety.

Highways England will also renew its commitment to another large-scale building project, the construction of the Lower Thames Crossing, which will link Kent and Essex. The construction, which will be the biggest road-building operation since the construction of the M25 back in the seventies, is set to ease traffic on the M25.

The Acceleration Unit has been seen as necessary by the DfT due to the delays put on road construction and projects by the coronavirus pandemic. Shapps said: “As Britain begins to get moving once again after four months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead.

“We want to accelerate Britain’s recovery by investing in vital infrastructure that will help get businesses back on their feet, create jobs to replace those that have been lost and level up our country. The creation of our new Acceleration Unit and investment in our roads and railways will ensure we build back better, greener and faster in the future.”