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What is a Smart Motorway?

| In Motoring Advice

The government is currently in the process of installing 300 miles worth of ‘all lane running’ carriageways, called Smart motorways.  Smart motorways are a response to the UK’s increasing congestion problem, which is currently causing the economy £2 billion a year.

Many Smart motorways use the hard shoulder as an extra lane of the carriageway, heavily reducing the financial cost and environmental damage that would have been caused by widening the road. Smart motorways use speed signs and cameras to monitor the flow of traffic and if an accident happens, lanes can be closed instantly.   

There are 3 types of Smart motorway;

Controlled Motorway – These types of motorway have a variable speed limit monitored by a regional traffic centre. The hard shoulder is opened to ease traffic flow when there has been an emergency.

Hard Shoulder running – A traffic control centre opens the hard shoulder at peak times to ease the flow of traffic. When this lane is open, a speed limit will be shown on the gantries above, and a red cross when it’s closed. If you drive on the hard shoulder whilst the cross is shown, you are at risk of a fine.

All Lanes running – These motorways allow traffic to use all lanes of the motorway at all times. Emergency refuge areas (ERA) are situated in intervals along the inside lane.

How to drive on a Smart motorway

If Smart motorways seem a little daunting, these simple tips will allow you to drive confidently and correctly on the carriageway;

  • The red cross means the lane is closed, so move out of this lane as soon as safely possible and do not return until the cross has cleared.
  • Do not exceed the speed limit shown on the gantries.
  • Only drive on the hard shoulder if its open. The gantries will indicate weather it’s open or not, and it will be marked with a solid white line.

What to do if you break down on a Smart motorway

Unfortunately, breakdowns happen, and if it happens on a Smart motorway, this is what you should do;

  • Switch your hazard warning lights on immediately
  • Pull into your nearest ERA if possible. The gaps between ERAs differ on every motorway, but they will never be any more than 1.5 miles apart. ERAs are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone. Use the phone to contact Highways England.
  • If you cannot reach an ERA, try to find a gap in the barriers and pull onto the verge.
  • If this is not possible, pull into the left-hand lane and leave your vehicle if safe to do so, by the left-hand door, and wait behind the safety barrier.
  • If it is not safe to leave your vehicle, stay in it and call 999.