How to drive on a smart motorway
What is a smart motorway?
In a bid to improve traffic throughput, some
motorways use CCTV to monitor lane use and dynamic signs to control traffic
Many have had their hard shoulder -
traditionally a place of refuge for broken-down vehicles and an access path for
emergency and rescue services - converted to a live traffic lane (although this
isn’t always the case, as we’ll see below).
The term ‘smart’ comes from this monitoring, the
changing of speed limits and imposing lane restrictions on the regular gantry
signs. Also displayed are key safety and information messages. The more
frequent speed limit changes are imposed to maintain traffic flow and keep
vehicles on the move.
Do I need to do anything differently?
The answer is yes. While the standard road rules
still apply - such as no overtaking on the left - there are additional
considerations when it comes to smart motorways.
Firstly, it isn’t a blanket 70mph speed limit.
Speed limits are set to regulate the traffic flow dynamically and there are
numerous speed cameras to enforce these limits.
If you only remember one thing about smart
motorways, is should be that if you see a red ‘X’ on the gantry above your
lane, carefully move into another lane. There could be a broken-down or crashed
vehicle or debris further ahead in this lane.
Are all smart motorways the same?
1. All lanes running
This is where all lanes are live, there is no hard shoulder and speeds and restrictions are controlled by the gantry signs. Instead of a hard shoulder, there are emergency refuge areas along the length of smart motorway sections. These are short lay-bys, each with an SOS phone.
2. Controlled motorways
Here, there will be three or more lanes monitored and controlled by dynamic signage on the gantries but there is still a hard shoulder.
3. Dynamic hard shoulder running
this setup, there is a hard shoulder - and a solid white line to separate it
from the main carriageway - but it can be opened-up for use in busy times. The
hard shoulder is controlled by gantry signs which display the red ‘X’ when not
in use as a live lane.
What happens if I do break down?
If you break down on a smart
motorway without a hard shoulder, you should try to reach one of the refuge
areas or a motorway exit junction. At the refuge area, call the control centre
on the SOS phone provided.
If you break down in a live
traffic lane on a smart motorway and are unable to leave safely, you must stay
in the vehicle with your hazard lights on and seatbelt fastened. Call the
police (999) straight away to ensure you receive help quickly.
If you break down in the left
lane, you may be able to get yourself out of the passenger side of your car and
over the barrier. Ensure you leave your hazard warning lights on before you
climb out. Phone for help when you have reached safety.
Smart motorway lanes are
monitored using CCTV and a red ‘X’ will be displayed on the gantry over your
lane to warn other drivers of the obstruction.
Reaching an emergency refuge
area is safer than remaining in a live traffic lane. So even with a flat tyre,
we’d recommend driving at a slow and steady speed with your hazard lights on to
get to a refuge point for safety rather than sitting in a carriageway - even if
this destroys a tyre (and possibly damages the wheel too).
Click here for our wider guide on what
to do if you break down on any road type.
Image acknowledgement: Crown copyright
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter