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Your Guide to: Smart Motorways

Your Guide to: Smart Motorways

The government may have called a temporary stop to the rollout of smart motorways amid safety concerns, but there are still plenty of miles of smart motorway across the United Kingdom, so it is a good idea to make sure that you know how to use them.

What is a smart motorway?

On the off-chance that you rarely drive on motorways and have missed the news regarding smart motorways, they involve “smart” ways to control traffic, increasing the capacity of the roads and reducing build-ups of congestion at times of peak motorway use. A smart motorway can sense traffic build-ups and introduce a reduced speed limit to help control it, as well as temporarily opening the hard shoulder as an additional lane.

These measures were designed as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and time-sensitive way of increasing road capacity for those times that it is needed, without undertaking expensive, emission-heavy roadworks.

Types of smart motorway

For all smart motorways, the speed limit displayed in the gantries is mandatory and controlled by speed cameras. If no limit is displayed, then national speed limit applies. When it comes to hard shoulder use, there are three different types of smart motorway: all lane running, dynamic hard shoulder and controlled motorway.

The all lane running scheme has seen the permanent removal of the hard shoulder, which is converted into a running lane. Lane one (previously known as the hard shoulder) is open all the time, unless there has been an accident. In the event of an accident, lane one will close and the closure will be signified by a red X on the overhead signage.

The dynamic hard shoulder is used as a conventional hard shoulder most of the time, and opened when it is needed in order to alleviate traffic. Overhead gantry signage will inform road users whether the hard shoulder is in use.

Controlled motorway schemes have the variable speed limit like the other two smart motorways, but no additional lane; the hard shoulder retains its traditional use for emergencies only.

The controversy around smart motorways

With drivers claiming that they are forced to slam on their brakes to reduce their speed in time for temporary speed reductions, and several reported tragedies of people using the hard shoulder in an emergency losing their life to vehicles using it as a running lane, smart motorways have seen some controversy. In order for smart motorways to work, road users must remain vigilant, safely reducing their speed when they see reduced speed limits, and being vigilant for the red X that indicates the hard shoulder is NOT in use, as well as taking note of the next ERA (Emergency Refuge Area) for times when the hard shoulder is in use.

If you are new to driving, or inexperienced at driving on motorways, it could be useful to have a couple of specific motorway driving lessons; contact your local driving school to see what they offer. For more tips and advice, follow Trust A Garage on Facebook or Twitter.

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