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What are smart motorways and how do they work?

What are smart motorways and how do they work?


The subject of smart motorways is a much-debated one. A new sight on the UK’s roads, smart motorways have been implemented to save lives and keep traffic flowing, but they have had a fair degree of criticism levelled towards them. However, they’re going to remain on our roads, so here’s what they look like and how to drive on them.



Are there different types of smart motorway?


There sure are. The first type is a controlled motorway, which retains a hard shoulder which can be used in an emergency. The remaining lanes are controlled by variable speed cameras with overhead gantries displaying the set speed. If no speed limit is shown, then drivers need to keep within the national speed limit. 


All lane running motorways are next, which means that all lanes of a highway are live - and there’s no hard shoulder. In the event of an accident, a red ‘X’ will be displayed on the overhead gantry, essentially closing the lane. Any driver who ignores the red ‘X’ could find themselves slapped with a £100 fine and three points on their licence.


Dynamic hard shoulder motorways - which had a hard shoulder which could be opened during periods of congestion - have been scrapped in a recent review of the smart motorway network.


What happens if I break down?


Breaking down on any motorway can be stressful, but what happens if you conk out on a smart motorway which doesn’t feature a hard shoulder?


First off, look out for an emergency refuge area (ERA) at the side of the road. These are highlighted with blue signs and orange telephone symbols. Though usually set at 1.5-mile intervals, the recent review announced that more ERAs would be put into motorways. 


However, if you can’t reach an ERA, you should try to get on the verge if no barrier is blocking it, switching on your hazards and exiting the vehicle afterwards. However, if that’s not possible, official guidelines state that you should stay with your vehicle, fasten your seatbelt and ensure the hazard lights are activated. If this happens, you need to call 999 right away.


If there aren’t any overhead gantry signs, can I still get caught for speeding?


This has been a long-standing question over the smart motorways. However, Highways England states that: “All mandatory speed limits are enforced by police, as is the national speed limit of 70mph when no speeds are shown. If you break the speed limits you will be caught.


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