There’s a very good chance you’ve already driven on a smart motorway, especially if you’re a taxi driver, as the number of UK schemes in operation, under construction or planned is increasing all the time.
If you drive on a smart motorway but still aren’t clear what the rules are, you could soon be facing a fine of £100 and three points on your licence.
In spring 2018, the Highways Agency will be introducing cameras on smart motorways to automatically capture offenders, so we’ve summed up the most important things you need to know.
What is a smart motorway?
Smart motorways use technology controlled by regional traffic control centres to actively manage the flow of traffic. Monitoring traffic conditions carefully, control centres can activate and change road signs to give drivers important information, for example variable speeds limits, temporary or permanent use of the hard shoulder and closed lanes.
What is the aim of a smart motorway?
Smart motorways aim to increase road capacity and improve traffic flow at busy times. This can provide benefits such as more reliable journey times, fewer road traffic collisions and lower harmful vehicle emissions.
Using existing motorways more efficiently can also save the expense of widening the road.
Tips for driving legally and safely on smart motorways
- A red “X” means that lane is closed because of a danger, breakdown or obstruction ahead. Move safely to another lane as soon as possible
- Keep an eye on the current speed limit displayed on the overhead gantries; they are legally enforceable
- If no variable speed limit is displayed, then the national speed limit applies
- The hard shoulder may be opened at busy times and the speed limit reduced. Don’t drive on the hard shoulder – separated from live lanes by a solid white line – unless directed by overhead signs
- A red “X” above the hard shoulder means that normal rules apply, i.e. don’t use it except in an emergency
- Some smart motorways have permanently converted the hard shoulder to an extra lane for traffic. This lane will be marked by a broken white line, like other traffic lanes on the motorway
- If your vehicle experiences difficulty, exit the smart motorway if possible, or use the hard shoulder (if it’s not open to traffic)
- Emergency refuge areas, spaced at regular intervals along smart motorways, can be used in emergencies where there is no hard shoulder
Do smart motorways work?
Opinions differ. Some believe they’re just a government scheme to generate revenue. Supporting this theory, a Freedom of Information request from Confused.com revealed that fines from variable speed cameras totalled £526 million since they were first introduced in 2013.
The AA had mixed reactions to the M42 scheme in January 2017. Although capacity was improved and peak time congestion eased, they believed smart motorways were more vulnerable when accidents and breakdowns occur.
And the AA’s President, Edmund King, branded variable speed limits inconsistent, saying they didn’t always reflect conditions on the road.
The fact is, with many smart motorway schemes already in operation and many others under construction, taxi drivers need to be aware of the rules.
These government resources provide more information about smart motorways:
A brief overview
About the Red X