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Smart Motorways: Your questions answered

Date: Fri 23rd February 2018   |   Author: L Blake

Understanding how to drive with the extra lane

A smart motorway, formerly known as a managed motorway, uses technology to manage the flow of traffic. The regional control centres carefully monitor the traffic and adjust the speed of the smart motorways, to increase capacity and reduce congestion.

Congestion on the highways in England was costing the Government £2 billion each year, with 25% of this congestion caused by road accidents. So smart motorways were not only introduced to improve congestion, but also to improve road safety and save costs.

Smart motorway speed limits

The speed limits on UK motorways is set to 70mph. However, factors like bad weather, accidents, rush hour or roadworks may alter the speed at which traffic flows. To keep road capacity and traffic flow at a good pace, changing the speed of the motorway when necessary improves your journey time and reduces stop/start driving.  Any change in the smart motorway speed limit is shown on the overhead sign.

The overhead signs also notify drivers of road or lane closures. Therefore you should always take note of the overhead signs, in case you need to alter the route of your journey.

What’s different about a smart motorway hard shoulder?

A smart motorway hard shoulder acts as an extra lane when the road becomes congested. The hard shoulder is indicated by a solid white line on the overhead sign. When you’re able to drive in the hard shoulder, the symbol on the overhead sign changes to a broken white line.

When the smart motorway hard shoulder is acting as a lane, you should aim to leave the motorway if you begin to notice a problem with your vehicle, such as if a warning light appears or you begin to run low on fuel.

This is of course, not always possible. If you break down you should pull over in an emergency refuge area with your hazard lights on.  Emergency refuge areas are an area of relative safety on a smart motorway, with access to an emergency telephone connecting you to one of the Regional Control Centres, who will be able to pin­point your location.

If you break down and you don’t manage to reach the refuge area, you should pull over as close to the barrier as possible. You should ensure that you put your hazards on early in order to warn drivers behind you that you are in trouble. Once you come to a stop everyone should exit the vehicle to the left hand side and climb safely up the verge. The lane will close once the control centre notices the incident, but you can speed up the process by notifying the Highways Agency.

Smart motorway driving tips

  • Always take note of the overhead signs in case of a sudden change in the speed limit.
  • Do not drive in the hard shoulder unless instructed to by the overhead sign.
  • Do not drive in a lane that is marked with an ‘x’ symbol.
  • Take note of any warnings or information displayed on the overhead signs in case of the information may affect your route.
  • Use the emergency refuge area if you’re unable to pull over in the hard shoulder.

Have smart motorways improved driving?

The government plans to create 480 miles of smart motorway in England, with the completion date yet to be announced. So far the new road layout has improved the journey reliability time by 22%. Personal injury accidents have also reduced by more than 50%. From these accidents, severity was much lower with fewer fatalities and fewer people seriously injured. These figures speak for themselves; smart motorways certainly have their benefits.

We hope you found this article on understanding smart motorways informative. There are plenty more helpful articles on the AutoProtect Engage page that answer all of your vehicle and driving queries.