More and more stretches of motorway are being converted to include traffic management technology. Active traffic management has been in operation since 2006, expanding across various stretches to help control traffic flows and reduce the number of incidents on the roads.
From 2013, these upgraded roads have been dubbed smart motorways by Highways England – formerly the Highways Agency – who oversee their construction and operation alongside Transport Scotland and Traffic Wales. You may have already been on a smart motorway (or probably been stuck in the middle of construction roadworks!) If not, it may soon be time to get to grips with them as more conversions are planned to take place over the next few years.
Some of the earlier smart motorways were largely experimental to gauge the usefulness of variable speed limits and frequent opening of the hard shoulder as an extra lane. However, all newly developed smart motorways will operate under an “All lanes running” model. This means that we could see stretches of motorway spanning four lanes and no hard shoulder. Replacing the hard shoulder will be Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) every 2.5km, or around every 1.5 miles.
All upgraded areas will be monitored by CCTV, with operators in control rooms keeping an eye out for incidents, congestion or emergency services in need of direct routes. Each lane on the motorway may have its own variable speed limit, changeable messaging and even be set to closed off, as signified by a red X above the appropriate lane. The rules of the red X are strictly enforced and could lead to prosecution, as driving in a closed lane could be a danger to yourself or others.
To enforce the variable effects on smart motorways, new digital cameras will be included, although they’re not quite as distinguishable as the yellow box cameras we’re familiar with. This is probably intended to keep all drivers sticking to speed restrictions at all times, rather than only in sight of cameras.
For further guidance on the changes to expect and tips for driving on smart motorways, check out the official government website, with up-to-date information provided by Highways England.