Despite smart motorways existing for more than ten years in the UK, research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists showed 67% of drivers felt there has been no publicity surrounding their creation, meaning many don’t fully understand the concept of smart motorways or how they work.
If you’re in the majority, Warranty Direct has put together a guide to explain the changes, benefits and potential new fines smart motorways might bring in the future.
A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in, particularly busy areas.
These methods include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and applying variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.
Smart motorways are an effective and cost efficient way of increasing space on our roads, cutting jams and speeding up journey times.
In fact, government predictions suggest journey times will be improved by ten per cent along the M1 and 15 per cent on the M3 once work to create Smart motorways along these routes is complete.
There are three types of schemes which are classed as smart motorways:
- Controlled motorways use at least three lanes, with variable speed limits set accordingly along the stretch of road and a hard shoulder which should only be used in emergencies
- Dynamic hard shoulder running schemes use variable speed limits and a hard shoulder that can be opened as a running lane at busy times. Illuminated overhead signs tell you when you may drive on the hard shoulder
- All lane running schemes mean you will notice there is no hard shoulder. Instead, every lane is in use, with variable speed limits again being set as and when required. As a result of this design, motorists should do their utmost to stop at an emergency refuge area if they encounter a problem
Not so fast and furious
Of course, all normal road rules and laws apply to smart motorways, but there are a few points in particular worth highlighting.
The same laws apply for speeding on a smart motorway, but with more cameras and variable speed limits, motorists have a much higher chance of getting caught and fined for speeding.
Given the new speeding sentencing structures, offenders can be charged a maximum of £2,500 on a motorway or up to 175% of their weekly income. Fines are worked out on a sliding scale depending on the severity of the speeding offence. Motorists who break the rules leave themselves wide open to these more severe penalties.
New digital speed cameras are now widely used to enforce variable speed limits too. Though they are clearly signed, these are smaller and less visible than the more familiar ‘yellow box’ cameras. So, make sure you pay attention to road signage when driving and adjust your speed accordingly.
Don’t follow the red X
Earlier this year, Highways England found as many as 20% of vehicles were driving through the red X signs used on smart motorways.
On a smart motorway, the red X indicates a lane is closed, due to there not being the necessity to have it open, an accident or maintenance occurring.
It is an offence to drive in a lane with a red X on the gantry above it. Not only is it extremely dangerous, but there are also plans to introduce fixed penalty fines in the future instead of the manual enforcement currently in place. So it’s best to get into the habit of leaving a closed lane as soon as you can.
If you are still unsure about how to drive on a smart motorway, here are some more quick tips to give you clarity:
- Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
- A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder, so don’t drive in it unless directed
- A broken white line indicates a normal running lane
- If your vehicle experiences difficulties, exit the smart motorway as soon as possible
- Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
- Never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”
- Put your hazard lights on if you break down