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Your Guide To: Smart Motorways Part 1

Smart Motorways. You might love them, you might hate them; you may be completely indifferent to them. No matter how you feel, they are here to stay. Here’s what you need to know in our very own Smart Motorways 101.

Q1: What is a smart motorway?

A smart motorway is a segment of motorway managed by an electronic traffic management system. The aim of the smart motorway is to help to reduce congestion and allow more people to use notoriously busy parts of the motorway with ease. Traffic management includes tactics such as altering speed limits within each lane and using the hard shoulder as a running lane, to ease traffic flow. The concept is great in theory and is much kinder to the environment and the taxpayers wallet than making physical changes to increasingly busy motorways. At the moment, there are three main types of smart motorway.

Q2: What are the different types of smart motorway?

  1. All lane running schemes have permanently removed the hard shoulder to use it as an additional lane. Each lane has a gantry above it showing whether it is open, and the speed limit.
  2. Controlled motorways have variable speed limits within all the lanes, but the hard shoulder is for use only in an emergency. Use of the hard shoulder is a serious offence unless it is a genuine emergency.
  3. Dynamic hard shoulder running schemes change according to need. During times of heavy congestion, the hard shoulder may be opened as an additional lane. Whether or not the hard shoulder can be used will be shown in the gantry above it; if the sign is blank or shows a red X, it is forbidden to use the hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.

Q3: What is the speed limit on a smart motorway?

The smart motorway theory considers complex algorithms that show how slight regulations to speed can severely reduce congestion. Therefore, the speed limit will vary according to how busy the road is at any time. The speed limit for each lane is clearly shown in a gantry above that lane; if an X is shown, the lane is closed due to an accident or blockage of some kind and you must leave the lane as soon as possible. If no speed limit is shown, National Speed Limit applies. Some motorists express concerns about the danger in having to rapidly reduce speed; Highways England have clarified that they have accounted for this and motorists have a time lag between being notified of the speed limit, and that limit being enforced.

It is important that you understand the basics of driving on a smart motorway to ensure that you stay within the legal speed limit, and to prevent you from inadvertently putting yourself or others in danger. Next week, we look at the penalty for failing to adhere to smart motorway speed limits.

To stay up to date on the latest changes in driving law and safety, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. If you are concerned about your driving, get in touch with a local trusted driving instructor and book yourself a refresher lesson.

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