Smart Motorways are a divisive, even controversial issue, but they're here to stay. With that in mind, we have put this little guide together to help you figure out What Are Smart Motorways and How Do They Work ? Highways England announced in October 2019 that an additional 300 miles of smart motorway without hard shoulders will be built across England by 2025, therefore it's critical that drivers and riders learn how to use them.
Drivers understandably have many questions about these newer forms of motorway: what are they, how do I use them, what do I do if I break down on one, are they more dangerous, and what fines may I receive while driving on them?
We have attempted to answer many of these here in order to help motorists have a more pleasant and safe driving experience.
Feel free to join the discussion and share your experiences with smart motorways in the comments section below.
So What Is A Smart Motorway Anyway ?
A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that employs traffic management techniques to increase capacity and reduce congestion in congested areas.
These methods include using the hard shoulder as another traffic lane and implementing variable speed limits to control traffic flow. You have probably already been unfortunate enough to be caught up in one of these.
Highways England (previously the Highways Agency) created smart motorways to manage traffic in a way that minimises environmental impact, cost, and construction time by avoiding the need for additional lanes.
Smart motorways are classified into three types.
What are the various kinds of Smart Motorways ?
Controlled Motorways contain three or more lanes with variable speed restrictions, but a standard hard shoulder remains. Only in a true emergency should the hard shoulder be utilized.
These variable speed limits are shown on overhead gantry signs; if no speed limit is shown, the national speed limit is in effect. To enforce them, speed cameras are deployed.
For a more complete description of Controlled Motorways, and list of locations, please check out the Wikipedia entry here.
'Dynamic Hard Shoulder' Running entails opening the hard shoulder to traffic as a running lane during busy periods to relieve congestion.
A solid white line separates the hard shoulder from the standard carriageway on some sections. Whether the hard shoulder is free to traffic is indicated via overhead signage on gantries.
For a more complete description of Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running, and list of locations, please check the Wikipedia entry here.
All Lane Running Schemes, as the name implies, permanently remove the hard shoulder and transform it into a running lane.
Lane one (previously the hard shoulder) is only closed to traffic on these sorts of highways in the case of an accident.
In this situation, a red X on an overhead gantry and/or a verge-mounted sign will indicate that one or more lanes are closed, indicating that you must exit as soon as you can.
For a more complete description of All Lane Running Schemes, and a list of locations, please check the Wikipedia entry here.
How Dangerous Are Smart Motorways ?
Because of the lack of a hard shoulder, many people believe that smart motorways are more dangerous than conventional motorways. Seven in ten (68 percent) of those polled for the RAC Report on Motoring 2019 believed that removing the hard shoulder on motorways jeopardises safety.
Highways England has released statistics based on data collected since the first smart motorway opened in 2006, stating:
- The reliability of journeys has increased by 22%.
- Accidents resulting in personal injury have been reduced by more than half.
Highways England has run communication campaigns to educate drivers on how to use smart motorways, such as the importance of obeying red X signs at all times. Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) are increasingly being painted orange to help drivers spot them, and there are more signs directing drivers to their next ERA.
However, driving groups continue to advocate for more improvements to smart motorways in order to make them as safe as possible and to also enable drivers feel safe when driving on them, particularly on sections of 'all lane running' smart motorway when the hard shoulder is permanently removed.
Can I Be Fined Driving On A Smart Motorway ?
Of course, all conventional road rules and legislation apply on smart highways, but there are a few factors worth highlighting.
Speeding On A Smart Motorway
The same laws and penalties apply to speeding on a smart motorway, but with additional cameras and varying speed limits, motorists have a considerably higher probability of being caught and fined for speeding.
This is compounded by the fact that many drivers are unaware that cameras on smart motorways, that enforce variable speed limits, can still catch you driving over the national speed limit when a variable speed limit is not in effect.
According to Highways England: "If no specific speed limit is displayed, the national speed limit takes precedence. On smart motorways, speed cameras are in use. If you exceed the speed limit, you may face a fine."
Given the new speeding sentencing rules, which can result in a £2,500 fine for offenders, motorists who break the regulations put themselves at risk of a harsher punishment in the shape of a massive fine and points on your licence.
Smart Motorway Speed Cameras
Fixed to over-head gantries on England's roadways, smart motorway cameras enforce variable speed restrictions and monitor traffic numbers.
With more cameras on smart motorways, motorists are considerably more likely to be caught and penalised for speeding.
Smart motorway cameras are yellow in colour and smaller than standard speed cameras.
According to Highways England, cameras should be treated as though they are always on.
When smart highway cameras are not set to a variable speed restriction, they will use the national speed limit. So even if a variable speed restriction is not in place, cameras on smart motoways that enforce variable speed limits, can capture you exceeding the national speed limit.
There is a minor delay between when the speed limit is altered and when the cameras start enforcing it. This is to allow drivers to reduce their speed at a reasonable rate. This lag can last as little as 10 seconds. With all this in mind, you should probably have a look at our range of Speed Camera Detectors. Smart Motorway ready.
Do Smart Motorway Speed Cameras Flash ?
Smart motorway speed cameras never emit a flash, like their GATSO counterparts. In fact, you might not even realise you have been caught until the ticket comes through the door. A unit beside the camera provides an infrared flash, allowing the camera to operate at night and in low light scenarios.