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Are Smart Motorways Just Too Smart For Us?


As the M25 celebrates its first birthday of having a Smart Motorway between junctions 23 and 25, evidence suggests that drivers are still confused.

Smart Motorways were designed to help ease the flow of busy traffic at peak times. When the M25 was built in 1975 there were only 17.5 million cars registered on the road. Fast forward 40 years and that number has doubled to 35.6 million! So with an increase of cars on an old road network the innovative idea was born.

Smart motorways allow drivers to use the hard shoulder during busy periods. Electronic signs overhead are used to indicate when they can and can’t be used, as well as forewarning about incidents ahead. But, 71% of drivers have said to feel less safe on a motorway with no hard shoulder in a survey conducted by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). The same survey revealed that 40% of drivers were concerned about the technology behind the monitoring systems, such as the traffic detectors, to protect them if they needed to pull over and stop.

IAM chief exec, Sarah Sillars, said: “Some are still confused and nervous about using smart motorways – if they are aware of them at all.” The organisation has produced a set of tips explaining what the electronic signs mean on smart motorways:

  • Red cross without flashing beacons: hard shoulder only for use in an emergency or breakdown
  • Speed limit inside a red circle: a mandatory limit that may have cameras enforcing it
  • Blank signal: usual motorway rules apply
  • White arrow with flashing beacons: applies to all lanes and means you should move into the lane that the arrow points to
  • Red cross with flashing beacons: You should not continue to use the lane
  • National speed limit sign is shown: 70mph maximum speed limit, which applies to all lanes apart from the hard shoulder


According to Sillars, the best way to raise awareness of smart motorways is “to allow learner drivers to use motorways under expert supervision.” We actually agree with this! With many new drivers having never driven on the Motorway, lessons in how to understand how to use both normal and smart motorways would be a great addition to the driving scheme.

Here at Imperial Car Supermarkets, we’re still not convinced this is enough. With Smart motorways underway close to our sites in Hampshire, we’re still unaware as to how it all works. OK, so they’ve produced a set of tips explaining what the electronic signs means, but if you weren’t forward thinking enough to check online before you made your commute would you be any the wiser? Would the thought of researching the Smart Motorway even enter your mind? We think not! 

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