What is a smart motorway?
A smart motorway is different to a normal motorway for a few reasons. For a start, there’s no hard shoulder. Unlike on regular motorways, where the hard shoulder is a lane for emergency use only, smart motorways use it as an extra lane of live traffic. The aim is to ease congestion at peak times, with more space on the roads for cars to filter into to help them get from A to B in less time.
Smart motorways are also ‘managed’. This means there are cameras watching them, allowing their operators to slow traffic down, close off lanes or request emergency support depending on what’s going on. When driving on them, these instructions will be displayed on live signs above the lanes. You can see anything on them from reduced speed limits, through to escaped animals or accident warnings.
Because of their constant monitoring, in theory you should be able to break down at any stage of a smart motorway and have help sent out as soon as you need it. The lane should be closed off behind you and other drivers alerted to your presence, preventing a crash and keeping you safe until support arrives.
Which UK roads are smart motorways?
Smart motorways cover 488 miles of UK roads, with an additional 300 miles planned by 2025. The intention is to make the UK’s motorway system the safest in the world, easing ever-growing congestion and helping the environment through less idle traffic. With the government’s carbon emission targets in place, smart motorways can play a key role in lowering the country’s pollution problem.
The following table shows you which roads are smart motorways, and what type of system they have in place. ‘All lane running’ means there is no hard shoulder - all the lanes are live for you to drive in. A ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ is sometimes a live lane, sometimes not. It will be opened up to ease congestion. A ‘controlled motorway’ has three lanes with variable speed limits, displayed on the overhead signage. The hard shoulder remains and should only be used in an emergency.