What is a smart motorway?
In today’s world of digital technology, we are going ‘smart’ in many different ways. From smartphones and smart cars to smart homes, modern tech has helped to boost safety, security, and convenience. It’s not just our devices that have gone smart, but our motorways too!
There are various aspects that make a motorway a smart one. The smart sections of motorways use variable speed limits to control the flow of the traffic. In addition, some make the hard shoulder an actual functional lane to keep traffic flowing and ease congestion.
Smart motorways were developed to try and improve traffic management while also minimising the negative impact on the environment. These motorways have also helped to save time and money because the creation of additional lanes has not been necessary.
Different types of smart motorways
It is worth noting that there are actually several different variations when it comes to smart motorways. This includes controlled, dynamic hard shoulder, and all lane running schemes. So, let’s take a closer look at each of these variations:
- Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running Schemes
With these schemes, the hard shoulder is opened up as a functional lane for drivers to use when the motorway is busy. This helps ease congestion, making it invaluable for drivers. The hard shoulder is identified from the other lanes by a solid white line. You need to look out for overhead signs on the gantries to determine whether the hard shoulder can be used for traffic at any given time.
If the signs above the hard shoulder display a red X or they are blank, it means that the hard shoulder can only be used for emergencies as normal. This means you must move over onto one of the regular lanes as soon as possible.
- Controlled Motorways
With controlled motorways, there is always a traditional hard shoulder that is only available for emergency use. These motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limits, which are displayed on signs on the overhead gantries.
If there is a variable speed limit in place, it will be displayed clearly for motorists to see on these signs. However, if there is no speed limit displayed, it means that the national speed limit of 70mph applies.
- All Lane Running Schemes
With all lane running schemes, there is no hard shoulder because it is effectively converted into a fully functional motorway lane. The only time the first lane, which used to be the hard shoulder, is closed to traffic, is if there is an accident that warrants its closure. If the lane is closed for any reason, a red X sign on the gantry overhead will indicate that you need to move to one of the other lanes as quickly as possible.
Improving Efficiency and Traffic Flow
According to Highways England, the introduction of smart motorways has helped to improve journey reliability for motorists as well as improving traffic control and efficiency. Data shows that there has been over a 50 per cent drop in personal accidents and an impressive reduction in serious injuries stemming from accidents.
While some have expressed concerns about the emergency hard shoulder facility being taken away, Highways England has introduced ERAs, or Emergency Refuge Areas. These are designed to provide a safe place to pull over if your vehicle breaks down. Each ERA has an emergency telephone so that motorists who are stranded can call for assistance. They are located around 1.5 miles apart from one another on smart motorways. You should also bear in mind that there are Moto service stations along the motorway so you can stop off there for a break or if you run into problems. You can find them on our route planner before you set off, or mid journey if you have a passenger with a smartphone!