What is a smart motorway? How to drive safely on one

Smart motorways are becoming increasingly popular across the UK, but do you know what they are and how to drive on them?

Stay safe on smart motorways

Stay safe on smart motorways

Find out how to stay safe on the various types of smart motorway scheme in operation across the UK.

What is a smart motorway

A smart motorway uses technology to actively manage the flow of traffic to help cut congestion and improve journey times.

How do they work?

The motorway is managed by a regional control centre, which can monitor traffic and activate signs and speed limits to help keep the traffic flowing.

What other methods are used to keep the traffic flowing?

Widening motorways is extremely expensive and impacts on traffic during construction, so smart motorways have been developed to allow the hard shoulder to be used as an additional lane by either temporarily or permanently opening the hard shoulder to traffic.

How do I drive on a smart motorway?

This depends on what type of smart motorway you are on. Pick from the following.

All lane running smart motorways…

These are where the hard shoulder is permanently used as an additional lane for traffic to use. The hard shoulder is now known as ‘lane one’ on these stretches of motorway. Overhead signs can be used to impose speed restrictions or, in the event of an incident, display a red cross (X symbol) over lane 1 (formerly the hard shoulder). Drivers can be prosecuted if they drive in a lane showing a red cross. There are emergency refuge areas throughout these sections. These are for genuine emergencies only and typically located every 1.5 miles. These sections will be covered by broken white lines between all lanes to show their equal status.

All lane running sections of motorway

M62 J18-20
M6 J10a-13
M3 J2-4a
M25 J5-6/7
M25 J23-27
M1 J28-31
M1 J32-35a
M1 J39-42

Controlled motorways

These have at least three lanes with variable speed limits, but the hard shoulder is retained. As normal, the hard shoulder should only be used in emergency situations.

Controlled motorway sections

M60 J8-18
M42 J3a-M40 J16
M1 J6a-10
M26 J16-23
M25 J10-16
M25 J18-10
M25 J7-8
M20 J4-7
M25 J2-3
M25 J27-30
M1 J25-28

Dynamic hard shoulder running

This involves the temporary opening of the hard shoulder during heavy traffic to help ease congestion. These stretches of the carriageway will be denoted by a solid white line. Overhead signs will indicate if the hard shoulder is open for traffic. The signs can also display a mandatory speed limit to help keep traffic flowing. These limits are likely to be enforced by speed cameras. In the event of an incident, lane one (hard shoulder) will be closed by a red cross (X symbol) being displayed.

Hard shoulder running sections or motorway

M62 J25-30
M6 J8-10a
M6 J5-8
M4 J19-20
M5 J15-17
M1 J10-13
M42 J3a-7
M42 J7-9
M6 J4-5

What to do in the event of an emergency

In the event of an emergency on a smart motorway – where the hard shoulder (or lane one) is in use – here’s the official advice from Highways England.

Use an emergency refuge area if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.

If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. We will either send a traffic officer to help you, or set the motorway signs to temporarily clear lane 1 to assist you to rejoin the motorway.

If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.

In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

Who is responsible for running the smart motorways?

Highways England is responsible for smart motorways in England. This is the body previously known as the Highways Agency.


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