According to Highways England, since the introduction of Smart Motorways road casualties have reduced by more than 25%. However, for those who are not used to travelling on Britain’s roads, they can appear to be a new challenge.
"A smart motorway (formerly managed motorway) is a section of motorway that uses active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase capacity by use of variable speed limits and hard shoulder running at busy times. Benefits include smoother traffic flow, more reliable journey times, fewer road traffic collisions, and reduced noise and harmful vehicle emissions."
Here are four things you need to know about driving on a Smart Motorway.
One of the main things to remember about Smart Motorways is the fact that UK law and road regulations still apply. In this instance, all drivers must remain in the left hand lane unless overtaking. Not only is ‘middle lane hogging’ one of the main causes of road collisions on UK motorways, but it is also one of the contributors to congestion.
STAY LEFT and arrive at your destination safely.
When the overhead warning signs display a red ‘X’, the lane is closed to traffic. Even if the lane does not look blocked, NEVER enter a closed area, even if it is just for a short journey.
Since June 2019, drivers who ignore this will now face an automatic £100 fine and three penalty points added to their licences. Cameras have been installed on motorway gantries to catch the rule breakers.
One difference between standard and Smart Motorways is that the speed limit is dictated by the overhead warning signs. The variable speed limit (which is mandatory - speeding fines and penalty points apply) will be altered to reduce the risk of congestion at busy times and when an accident has occurred. Whilst many drivers see speed restrictions on motorways as 'advisory', they are not to be ignored. Even if there is no visible traffic or blockage, the restrictions are there for a reason. You don’t know what is happening a mile of the road, so always adhere to the speed limits.
It is also good to bear in mind that Smart Motorways come equipped with speed cameras which capture speeding vans and HGVs - so protect yourself and your bank balance by not speeding.
On a Smart Motorway the hard shoulder is often utilised as an additional lane. With this in mind you should NEVER attempt to stop unless a breakdown causes you to have no other option. It is worth noting however that on a Smart Motorway the flow of traffic is controlled by regional control centres and lane adjustments will be made if neccessary.
Under normal circumstances, continue on to the designated emergency refuge area (EA). These areas are indicated by a blue sign with an orange SOS symbol. You will find one at least every 1.6 miles on a Smart Motorway. You can then use the emergency telephone to contact Highways England and a traffic officer will be despatched to your location to provide assistance. As EAs are short lay-bys, a Highways England Traffic Officer will be required to help you rejoin the motorway.
For more information about Smart Motorways, visit the Highways England 'Keep us all moving' website.