As an HGV driver working for Drive Personnel you may encounter Smart Motorways as you travel beyond the Southampton and Eastleigh area. For example there are now smart motorways in operation on the M25, M42, M40, M1 and M4. Smart Motorways were first introduced just over 11 years ago and they use technology to keep traffic flowing and reduce congestion.

It is estimated that con­ges­tion on the motor­way and major road net­work in Eng­land cost as much as £2 bil­lion every year, with 25 per cent of this congestion caused by inci­dents and accidents. There is therefore a potentially huge financial benefit in using smart motorways to cut this congestion.

How do Smart Motorways work?

An extra lane for the motorway and hence extra capacity is created by using the hard shoul­der for traf­fic, either per­ma­nently or only at peak times. Camera and other technol­ogy is then used to mon­i­tor con­ges­tion lev­els and change the speed limit across all of the lanes when needed to smooth out the traf­fic flow. The aim of these variable speed limits is to reduce frus­trat­ing stop-start dri­ving which is one of the causes of congestion on a motorway. In addition the technology can be used to acti­vate warn­ing signs to alert drivers to traf­fic jams and haz­ards up ahead or to close lanes for exam­ple to allow emer­gency vehi­cles through.

Smart motor­ways are a lower cost and faster way to create additional road capac­ity than tra­di­tional road widen­ing schemes. Analysis of the first smart motor­way scheme on the M42 motor­way which was opened in 2006 found that per­sonal injury acci­dents reduced by more than 50% and jour­ney reliability improved by 22%. They also found that where acci­dents did occur the sever­ity was much lower.

What to do in an emergency:

In order for the hard shoulder to be used as an additional lane during peak times, additional emer­gency refuge areas are pro­vided on smart motorways in order to provide an area of rel­a­tive safety fol­low­ing a break­down. On average on a smart motorway you will find an emergency refuge area every 75 seconds assuming an average speed of 60mph. There is also an emer­gency tele­phone in each refuge area which pinpoints your location and con­nects you to one of the Regional Control Centres who can arrange emergency services or recovery and breakdown services.

Driving on a Smart Motorway:

In order to stay safe and abide by the law ensure that you are up to speed on how to drive on a Smart Motorway. When you are on a smart motorway:

  • never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”
  • keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
  • a solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed by the overhead signs
  • a broken white line indicates a normal running lane
  • if your vehicle experiences difficulties, e.g. warning light, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
  • use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
  • put your hazard lights on if you break down

One of the most important signs to get to know on a Smart Motorway is the red X.  This indicates that a lane is closed.  If you see a red X closing a lane, move out of that lane promptly.  If you don’t, you may receive a fine.  

For more information you can visit the Government website