The word ‘smart’ has been used in recent years to describe a wealth of items embracing newer technology, from phones (remember when they weren’t pocket computers?), TVs and even kettles, but what about motorways? Does this mean that motorways now come equipped with WiFi and you can switch your porch light on before you get home? Well, no, as useful as that would be. Let Scrap Car Comparison guide you through everything you need to know about smart motorways.
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What is a Smart Motorway?
Smart motorways are simply motorways that use traffic management systems to increase the road capacity, in theory reducing the amount of congestion on the motorway network. The key words there being ‘in theory’. When the road begins to get busy, the hard shoulder is able to be utilised as a live running lane, while variable speed limits are enforced to control traffic flow.
Smart motorways were developed by Highways England, formerly known as Highways Agency, in an attempt at improving the motorway network without having to build additional lanes on existing roads, which would have had a much higher environmental impact, as well as much higher costs and more time taken to complete the works.
What are motorway variable speed limits?
Variable speed limits apply when a number is displayed on the overhead gantries along a motorway. For example, if you see a number 50 within a circle, then this means that the new speed limit for the road is now 50mph, as opposed to the national limit of 70. Cameras on variable speed limit motorways are programmed to be able to know what the speed limits are currently set at, so it is possible to be snapped at any time. If no speed limit is displayed on the gantries, then the national limit applies.
These cameras will also pick up anyone driving underneath a red X – if you are caught driving in a lane that has been closed, as denoted by the red X, you could be handed a £60 fine and three penalty points on your driving licence.
Smart Motorway rules
All normal rules of the road remain in place when driving on a smart motorway. What is worth noting, however, is the type of smart motorway that you’re driving on, as each of these will have their own nuances when it comes to using one.
- All Lane Running: As the name suggests, these motorways have no hard shoulder whatsoever, and all the lanes are running all of the time. The only time this lane will be closed to traffic is in the event of an incident, and this closure will be signalled by a red X on the overhead gantries.
- ‘Dynamic hard shoulder’: A dynamic hard shoulder motorway does have a hard shoulder as standard, but is open to all traffic when congestion increases. As usual, there is a solid white line between the hard shoulder and the ‘normal’ lane one, and must only be used when the signage says so. If there is a red X, a sign saying ‘Hard shoulder for emergency use only’ or nothing displayed at all, then you must not drive down this lane.
- ‘Controlled Motorway’: A controlled motorway features variable speed limits in all lanes, but retains a permanent hard shoulder.
What happens if you break down on a Smart Motorway?
There is never a good time to break down on a motorway, but when on a smart motorway, particularly an All Lane Running or an open dynamic hard shoulder scheme, you might feel like you’ve been left up a creek without a paddle. If you do break down, these are the steps you should be taking:
- Pull into an emergency refuge area (ERA) if possible
- If you cannot reach an ERA, try to get to the inside lane and pull over as close to the left, if not on the verge, as possible and safely exit your vehicle – out of the passenger door, and not into a live lane – and contact Highways England.
- If you are unable to pull across to the left, then stay in your car, fasten your seatbelt and dial 999. As soon as they become aware, the relevant highways authority will close the lane you’re in by displaying a red X on overhead gantries.
- Always switch your hazard lights on.
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