Article By Eden Motor Group

What's a Smart Motorway?

According to the statistics, driving on a motorway is safer than any other type of road in the UK and they are usually the fastest way to your destination too. The government announced that there is a new type of layout which aims to ease congestion by allowing all the lanes - including the hard shoulder - to be used by traffic. This has caused some safety concerns and drivers can be nervous about using them.

Before venturing onto a ‘smart’ motorway network you need to know how to use them, how to deal with an emergency to ensure the safety of you, your passengers and other motorists, and have an understanding of smart motorway signs.

Eden values its customers and wants to keep them safe, so here is our experts’ advice for how to use a planned smart motorway.

What's a Smart Motorway

Smart motorways in the UK are road networks that use advanced technology to actively manage traffic flow and increase capacity without the immediate need for physically widening roads. They incorporate variable speed limits, active lane management, and the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane during busy periods. These motorways rely on control centres and sensors to monitor traffic conditions, adjust speed limits, and open or close lanes to ensure smoother traffic flow, reduce congestion, and enhance safety.

Watch for the smart motorway signs

All smart controlled motorways have digital smart motorway signs which relay information which will help keep you safe. The most obvious will tell you what the speed limit is for that section of road. If there is nothing displayed, it is safe to assume that the national limit applies, which is 70mph for cars and vans. The controllers who are monitoring the network via CCTV, speed cameras, and radar sensors may decide to lower the limit to help with traffic flow or because of an incident. If the national speed limit displayed in 40mph or less, be prepared to stop as it generally means there is slow moving traffic ahead.

Move over

If there is a broken-down vehicle in a live lane, workers in the road or another incident, the signs will start to warn traffic to move out of closed lanes with arrows which point down and to the right above the affected stretch of road. You should try to move over into a lane which is open as soon as possible.

If you see a red ‘X’ above the lane where the smart motorway signs are, it is closed for safety reasons. You must change lanes immediately and not pass underneath the ‘X’ or you may receive a fine.

smart motorway signs, what's a smart motorway

If you breakdown

Breaking down on any motorway is inherently dangerous, and the best way to prevent it is to keep your car or van well maintained. Eden offers a selection of service packages and seasonal checks which will help keep your car in tip-top condition. But even the best maintained car can have an issue, and you will need to prepare in case the worst happens.

Because there is no hard shoulder on an ‘all lane running’ smart motorway, you need to get yourself to safety as soon as possible. The best place of all is off the motorway, so if your car is misbehaving or showing signs that it may have a problem – such as a warning light – then leave at the next exit and find somewhere safe to stop and investigate or call for help. If the problem arises suddenly and there is no exit in sight, then you need to try to get left if possible, and aim for an emergency refuge area. These are clearly signposted and painted yellow. From there you will be able to call for help.

You should try and reach one of these even if you think it might result in some damage to your car, such as a shredded tyre or damaged wheel. You should only remain stopped in a live lane if there is absolutely no alternative. If you cannot move the car off the motorway, turn on your hazard lights, remain in the car and call 999 – this is an emergency situation and the authorities need to warn the traffic coming behind you by changing the signs and getting everyone’s speeds down. They will ensure that they can arrange help to get you off the motorway as soon as possible.