Video Lesson
Smart Motorways

Smart motorways are sections of a motorway where the hard shoulder is open to traffic at peak times and during congestion and where the hard shoulder is fully converted to a permanent running lane.

Highways Agency regional control centres use CCTV cameras and variable message signs to manage smart motorways. This is to increase capacity by use of variable speed limits and hard shoulder running at busy times.

Benefits include smoother traffic flows, more reliable journey times, fewer road traffic collisions, and reduced noise and harmful vehicle emissions.

The first smart motorway came into operation on the M42 between junctions 4 and 7 in 2006. Since then smart motorways have been delivered on the M1 between junctions 10 to 13, the M4/M5 (Bristol), the M62 (Yorkshire), the M25 (London) and M6 (Midlands)
A number of new smart motorways will also be delivered on the M1, M60/M62, M23 (Surrey) in the near future.

How to Use a Smart Motorway

Smart motorways have certain important features and it is essential that you recognise them and understand how they work.

Hard Shoulder

Smart motorways can make use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane to help create more capacity on the motorway when things get busy.
  • there will be a solid white line on the road showing that it is a hard shoulder
  • overhead signs will tell you when the hard shoulder is available for use
  • a variable speed limit will be in force to help manage traffic flow
You MUST NOT use the hard shoulder if the signs over it are blank or display a red X, except to stop in an emergency. Please remember that when the hard shoulder is not in use as a running lane that there may be maintenance workers, breakdown/recovery operators or members of the Emergency Services using it.

Red X

Smart motorways allow the Highways Agency to quickly and easily close a lane to traffic. This is achieved by setting the sign overhead the lane to be closed to display a red X symbol.

If you see a red X sign displayed then you MUST NOT use that lane. There may be an incident or broken down vehicle up ahead. Please note that driving under a red X sign is illegal and you could be prosecuted.

Speed Limits

Smart motorways allow the Highways Agency to adjust the speed limit on a motorway during busy periods.
  • speed limit is displayed on overhead signs (DO NOT EXCEED THIS SPEED - MOST GANTRYS HAVE SPEED CAMERAS FITTED)
  • a computer system calculates the most appropriate speed limit based on the volume of traffic
  • traffic loops are built into the road surface in order to detect slow-moving or stationary traffic and these alert the Highways Agency Control Centres to the changing conditions.
Breaking Down on a Smart Motorway

If your vehicle develops a problem on a smart motorway then if possible try to leave the motorway at the next exit or pull off into a motorway service area.

If this is not possible then try to stop in an emergency refuge area if one is available. Refuge areas have an emergency telephone that links directly to a Highways Agency Control Centre. Using the emergency telephone lets the Highways Agency Control Centre staff know exactly where you are. They can give you any advice that you need, contact your breakdown service and also alert the Highways Agency traffic officers or Emergency Services as appropriate.

If you cannot reach a refuge area then :-
  • if it is safe to do so, get your vehicle off the carriageway. Use the hard shoulder if it is not open to traffic or move your vehicle onto the verge.
  • put your hazard lights on
  • exit your vehicle by the left hand doors if it is safe to do so and wait away from your vehicle behind the barrier if possible
If you have no choice but to stop in a live traffic lane then :-
  • put your hazard warning lights on to help other drivers see you and to also help the Highways Agency Control Centre staff to spot you on CCTV
  • if you are in the left hand lane and it is safe to do so, exit your vehicle via the left hand doors and wait away from your vehicle behind the barrier if possible
  • if you cannot exit your vehicle, do not feel that it is safe to do so or there is no other place of relative safety, then remain in your vehicle. Keep your seat belt on and if you have access to a working mobile phone dial '999' As soon as the Highways Agency are alerted they will use the motorway signs and signals to close traffic lanes in order to protect your vehicle until help arrives. They may also close traffic lanes to allow access for Emergency Service vehicles.
Your Driving Instructor would be happy to give you extra lessons on the motorway after you pass your test.
Better still, take a 2passPass Plus Course.

Practice makes perfect, so get plenty of practice from a Approved Driving Instructor.

2passLane discipline on Motorways
2passStay Safe Keep Moving - Red X with Flashing Red Lights
2passWhen to Use the Motorway Hard Shoulder
2passOnly a fool Breaks the Two second Rule