Smart Motorways


What you need to know about Smart Motorways

Smart Motorways have been gradually introduced in England as part of Highways England’s business plan to tackle congestion. 

What is a Smart Motorway?

Smart motorways are designed to increase capacity and reduce congestion using traffic management systems.  These include use of the hard shoulder as a running traffic lane and variable speed limits.

There are 3 types of smart motorway

  • All Lane Running Schemes

Permanently removes the hard shoulder and converts it to a running lane.  Traffic is monitored by CCTV and in the event of an incident lanes may be closed to traffic and a red X appears in the gantry above the lane, plus the speed limit may be changed.

  • Controlled Motorway

Has three or more lanes and retains a hard shoulder which can only be used in an emergency.  Plus variable speed limits apply – if no limit is displayed national speed limit is in place.

  • Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running Schemes

This involves opening the hard shoulder as a traffic lane during busy periods to alleviate congestion.  Overhead signs indicate whether the hard shoulder is open to traffic.

Are Smart Motorways Safe?

There has been some debate amongst drivers of the safety of smart motorways in relation to use of the hard shoulder as a running lane and the lack of Emergency Refuse Areas (Laybys).  Highways England has also reported a problem of drivers (in particular foreign trucks) parking in the ERAs when it is not an emergency. Some officials believe that a clearer name is needed for the lay-bys. When given selected names in the AA Populus poll, the most popular was Emergency Breakdown Area (49%), Emergency Refuge Area (21%) and Breakdown Area (9%).

But Highways England has published statistics from data gathered since the first smart motorway opened in 2006 to say:

  • Jour­ney reli­a­bil­ity has improved by 22 per cent
  • Per­sonal injury acci­dents have been reduced by more than half
  • Where acci­dents did occur, sever­ity was much lower over­all with zero fatal­i­ties and fewer seri­ously injured

What fines can I get driving on a smart motorway?

A comprehensive review of smart motorways has been ordered after an tenfold increase in the number of motorists being fined while still driving below 70mph.  Many motorists have complained about unfair fines for exceeding lower speed limits when the roads are clear of traffic. Highways England has defended the lower speed limits stating that they are often set to prevent congestion and manage traffic flow.

All the normal rules of the road apply but there are few things to be aware of.


With more cameras on smart motorways motorists typically have a much higher chance of getting caught and fined for speeding.  Given the new speeding sentencing structures speeding fines could be up to £2,500.

Red X Fines

Ignoring the red X sign is not only dangerous but can lead to a fine.  Currently this is enforced manually but camera enforcement is expected to be brought in during Summer 2018.  It is likely that when these new measures come in offenders will receive points and a fine or potentially an option for a motorway awareness course.

Tips for Driving on a Smart Motorway

The Gov website gives these tips for driving on 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

A brief overview of smart motorways from Highways England:-

In an emergency

In the event of an emergency the gov website gives these recommendations:-

Prevention is better than cure: keep your car well maintained, check your tyres and make sure you have enough fuel for your journey. All motorists should be able to make their own recovery arrangements in the event of a breakdown. We advise that you have breakdown cover and carry details of this with you.

Always try to exit the smart motorway immediately if your vehicle is damaged or experiences difficulties. If that’s not possible, move into the nearest place of relative safety.

On most motorways this will be the hard shoulder. But on a smart motorway there may not always be a hard shoulder, or the hard shoulder may be open to traffic.

In these cases you’ll see emergency refuge areas (ERA) spaced regularly along the motorway. Make your way to the nearest one.

You should follow these steps:
  1. Use an emergency refuge area if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
  2. If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. We will either send a traffic officer to help you or set the motorway signs to temporarily clear lane 1 to assist you to re-join the motorway.
  3. If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.
  4. In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

Find out more at Highways England

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