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Smart Motorways |
What is a smart motorway?

What is a smart motorway?

A section of motorway used to reduce congestion using traffic management methods is called a Smart Motorway. The hard shoulder is used as a running lane that uses various speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

Are smart motorways helpful or harmful?

Thousands of drivers take to UK motorways each day in a bid to go about their busy working lives with the aim of securing business deals and making deliveries. Congestion on the motorway network in England costs the economy around £2 billion a year with 25% of this resulting from traffic incidents. So, cutting congestion has economic benefits for our regions and the country as a whole.

Smart motorways were created to relieve congestion by making the hard shoulder available for use, according to Highways England. On some smart motorways the hard shoulder is opened at busy times. On others, it is permanently converted into a traffic lane. 

What’s the aim of a smart motorway?

·        Monitor traffic levels

·        Change the speed limit to smooth traffic flow, reduce frustrating stop-start driving and improve journey times

·        Activate warning signs to alert you to traffic jams and hazards up ahead

·        Close lanes – for example to allow emergency vehicles through

Source – Highways England

Are smart motorways making people’s lives easier and safer?

In recent days the AA has called for action to be taken following two fatal crashes on a smart motorway where there was no hard shoulder available due to it being an ‘all lane running system’, according to a report in the Daily Star.

Lane hogging also appears to be a problem on smart motorways without hard shoulders.

Two fifths (38%) of drivers say they will not drive in lane one of a smart motorway where the hard shoulder has been permanently converted into a running lane because they are worried about running into broken down vehicles, according to a survey of more than 18,000 drivers conducted by the AA.

This in turn leads to a waste of road capacity and more lane hogging and tailgating in other lanes. The AA has consistently called for more lay-bys on smart motorways to allay the fears of drivers.

smart motorway benefits

However, according to Highways England there is clear evidence of the benefits of smart motorways since the first one on the M42 was unveiled in 2006. 

How have smart motorways improved our commute?

·        Journey reliability improved by 22%

·        Personal injury accidents reduced by more than half

·        Where accidents did occur, severity was much lower overall with zero fatalities and fewer seriously injured

Source – Highways England

Where are our smart motorways?

smart motorways map

M1 motorway: J6a-J10[15], J23a-J24[16][17][18], J25-J28[19] and J31-J32

M4 motorway: J24-J28[20][21]

M6 motorway: J10a-J11a[22]

M9 motorway: J1-J1a (southbound)[23]

M20 motorway: J4-J5 (eastbound) and J5-J7[24]

M25 motorway: J2-J3[25], J6-J7 (counter-clockwise)[26], J7-J23[27][28] and J27-J30[29][30]

M40 motorway: J16-M42 J3a (northbound)[31]

M42 motorway: J7-J9[31]

M60 motorway: J8-J18[32][33]

M62 motorway: J28-J29[34]

M90 motorway: M9 J1a-J2 and J2-J3 (southbound)[23][Note 1]

A90 road: Special road between the M90 in South Queensferry[23]

Government investment

Over the next 5 years, and as part of the first Road Investment Strategy, a plan outlining improvements to Britain’s major road and motorways includes;

·        £15.2 billion invested in over 100 major schemes to enhance, renew, and improve the network

·        Help prevent over 2,500 deaths or serious injuries on the network

·        Build over 1,300 additional lane miles

·        Improve 200 sections of the network for cyclists

·        Benefit up to 250,000 people by reducing the noise impact of England’s motorways and major roads

Ways to be fined on a smart motorway

Around 72,348 drivers have been fined on smart motorways with variable speed limits in the past year – almost double the number of the previous year, representing a 10-fold increase in 5 years, according to Alphr.

smart motorway fines

Breaking down on the motorway

Breaking down on any kind of motorway isn’t fun but if you’re unlucky enough to break down on a smart motorway or if you’re involved in an accident, you can follow these steps issued by the RAC.

Use an Emergency Refuge Area (ERA) if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them. Different types of smart motorways have different ERA spacing, but the furthest you will be away from one is around 1.5 miles. In December 2017, following discussions with the RAC and others, Highways England said: “On all lane running schemes in the future we will be reducing the spacing from the current maximum of 1.5 miles (2.5km) to no more than 1 mile (1.6km) spacing.” 

What to do if you break down

·        If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area, you should try to move on to the verge if there is no safety barrier and it is safe to do so.

·        In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

·        If you stop in the nearside lane, leave your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door if it is safe to do so and wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one. If you are unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seat belt on.

·        If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone.

tips for smart motorways

Love them or hate them, Britain’s smart motorways are here to stay, so it’s imperative drivers get to grips with how to drive on them safely. Here are some final tips to staying safe on a smart motorway, according to You Gov.

Drivers become more considerate with age

Young drivers were revealed to be the most frustrating for other motorists behind the wheel, with irritating behaviors found to grow less common with age.

A huge 85 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds admitted to committing at least one of the top 10 most annoying habits, while this figure dropped to 79 per cent among 35 to 54s and just 68 per cent among the over 55s.

Between genders, men and women were found to be equally frustrating while behind the wheel, with 77 per cent of both sexes admitting to being guilty of at least one of the habits.


With so many drivers performing these irritating habits on a regular basis, it’s unsurprising that road rage is rife on British roads. A total of 70 per cent of motorists admitted to experiencing road rage at least once a week, while nearly a quarter (23%) find themselves on the receiving end of it three or more times in the same period. 

most annoying driving habits

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Disclaimer: The advice provided here are our own interpretations and opinions. We have tried to simplify the main points of smart motorways to create this guide but for more in-depth information please read the UK governments smart motorways overview.