In this article, we’ll try to answer all of your concerns to assist you in achieving a safer driving experience on Britains new smart motorways.

What is a smart motorway?

A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management to reduce congestion. This includes using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

Highways England developed smart motorways to manage traffic in a way that minimises environmental impact as well as cost, whilst avoiding the need to build additional lanes.

Are smart motorways more dangerous?

There is a debate that smart motorways are more dangerous than conventional motorways, because of the lack of a hard shoulder. Highways England has published statistics from data gathered since the first smart motorway opened in 2006.

They found the following:

  • Jour­ney reli­a­bil­ity had improved by 22 per cent.
  • Per­sonal injury acci­dents had been reduced by more than half.
  • Where acci­dents did occur, sever­ity was much lower over­all.

All-lane-running smart motorways have an emergency refuge area for vehicles that have broken down or crashed every 1.5 miles. There have been campaigns for more to be added.

What fines can I get driving on a smart motorway?

All of the normal road rules and laws apply to smart motorways.

Speeding

The same laws apply for speeding on a smart motorway but with more cameras on smart motorways and variable speed limits, motorists have a much higher chance of getting caught and fined for speeding. Contrary to popular belief, cameras on smart motorways that enforce variable speed limits can still catch you travelling over the national speed limit even when a variable limit isn’t in place.

“If no special speed limit is displayed then the national speed limit applies. Speed cameras are in operation on smart motorways and if you don’t keep to the speed limit, you may receive a fine.”
Highways England

New speeding sentencing could lead to as much as a £2,500 fine for offenders.

The Red X

Ignoring the ‘red X’ sign is extremely dangerous.

Currently, there is manual enforcement of red x signs, although camera enforcement of red x signs is expected to be brought in soon. Repeat offenders will receive points on their license and a fine. Those lucky enough may be presented with the option to do a motorway awareness course.

Tips & Advice

The .gov (Government) website offers some tips and advice for using a smart motorway:

  • Never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”.
  • Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries.
  • A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed.
  • A broken white line indicates a normal running lane.
  • If your vehicle experiences difficulties, eg warning light, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible.
  • Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder.
  • Put your hazard lights on if you break down.

I’ve broken down – what do I do now?

If you break down or are involved in an accident while on a smart motorway, you should consider the following:

  • 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.
  • 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, at least 100m behind your vehicle. 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.