Smart motorways

Policy issued on 15/02/16 |
Smart Motorways

England’s motorways are among the most congested in Europe and the government has plans to convert over 10% of the motorway network to smart (previously known as managed) motorways.

This offers a cheaper way to increase capacity than motorway widening but will change the way we drive on our safest roads. Smart motorway pilot schemes have successfully increased traffic flow on the M42, M1, M25 and M6 by adopting peak time hard shoulder running, CCTV monitoring, speed cameras and gantry mounted lane control signs. For drivers, the most comforting feature about them is knowing that the traffic situation is being constantly watched and a control centre can take immediate action in the event of incidents or congestion.

The latest generation of smart motorways are different - they involve all lane running, bigger gaps between refuges and less frequent roadside electronic signs. In theory detection and monitoring of incidents is at a high level and lanes can be signalled as closed and resources dispatched quickly to assist drivers.  However, there is mounting evidence that drivers who break down in live running lanes are being exposed to unacceptable delays before their predicament is being detected.

IAM RoadSmart Policy

  • IAM RoadSmart supports smart motorways as Highways England studies show most drivers like them and they reduce congestion
  • Smart motorways have been intensively modelled but have yet to fully prove themselves in the real world. The early schemes had more refuges, signs, CCTV and detection equipment and we expect these standards to be maintained
  • Most breakdowns and incidents on motorways are avoidable and the IAM will work closely with the Highways Agency to improve driver behaviour on our motorway network
  • Intensive education campaigns are needed to explain the new road designs to drivers who only use motorways on an occasional basis
  • Compliance with lane control signals is key to the success of smart motorways and IAM RoadSmart support enforcement of Red X signs
  • IAM RoadSmart would like to work with Highways England to provide retraining and re-education options for drivers failing to comply with motorway regulations. IAM RoadSmart's own motorway module would be an excellent starting point
  • The government must address drivers concerns about removing the hard shoulder by ensuring that all stretches of smart motorway are delivered as promised.  This requires full incident detection technology, CCTV coverage and more frequent refuges
  • IAM RoadSmart’s advice for driving on a managed motorway is: always be aware of the displayed speed limit, obey Red X signs, don’t change lanes; don't join a motorway if your fuel is low or car faulty, if you believe your car is in trouble try to get into an emergency refuge where you will be safe, if you break down in a running lane wait for help in the car.
Revised and updated 28 January 2020