What is a smart motorway?

We hear more and more about smart motorways but what are they?
And how are they not only cutting congestion but also saving lives?

When was the first smart motorway in the UK?

The smart motorway (sometimes called an intelligent transport system) has been around in the UK since 2006. The first time it was fully used in the UK was on the M42 motorway in the West Midlands in 2006.

What is a smart motorway?

Essentially, a smart motorway is a section of an existing motorway that uses technology to ease congestion. One of the ways this is done is by using the hard shoulder to create an extra lane. This is either done permanently or temporarily when the need arises. So, in the case of a three-lane motorway, opening up the hard shoulder to traffic would increase traffic capacity by 33% instantly and help to immediately ease congestion.

As well as easing congestion, smart motorways have the advantage of increasing traffic capacity on the UK’s roads without the need to build extra miles of road. When motorways first appeared in the UK in the 1950s, just 25% per cent of the British population had a car and there was a fraction of the freight we have today on the roads. Today, not only are there 15 million more people living in the UK than in the late 50s but 75% of households own a car. Quite apart from the huge costs involved in building new roads, smart motorways mean less British countryside needs to be dug up for us to move around the country.

What are the special considerations when driving on a smart motorway?

Although smart motorways are sections of existing motorway, there are some special considerations for those using them. Drivers should keep to the national speed limit on smart motorways. However, Smart motorways also use variable speed limits which further help traffic flow.

If a lane is marked by a red cross, this must not be used. When the hard shoulder is no longer available, drivers of broken-down vehicles should try to reach the regular emergency refuge areas that have been built into the country’s smart motorway system. These emergency refuge areas have telephones for those requiring help.

What other benefits have smart motorways brought?

Prior to the creation of smart motorways, congestion played a part in a quarter of road accidents and was estimated to cost the UK economy billions every year. Smart motorways mean fewer accidents and a smaller hit to the UK economy from congestion.

The other good news is that smart motorways reduce drivers’ fuel consumption as well as cutting pollution, which therefore saves many lives each year. And, of course, they also save us all time getting from A to B, which is great news for everyone!

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