How to use a SMART motorway

  • SMART motorways up and running for one year this week
  • Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) reveals confusion over the scheme
  • Top tips released to help you stay safe

Drivers are still confused about how to use SMART motorways, says the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).  

The group has released advice about the various signals motorists can expect to see on stretches of the network that make use of all-lane running, overhead gantry signs and emergency refuge areas.

Junctions 23 and 25 of the M25 became the first part of the motorway network to utilise the hard shoulder as a fourth lane this time last year.

Similar schemes are now in operation on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62, with part-time hard shoulder running on the M42 since 2006.

The IAM has conducted a survey on SMART motorways, which showed how 71 percent of drivers feel less safe on a motorway with no hard shoulder than a motorway with one.

Motorists were concerned with the safety of a car and its occupants after breaking down on a motorway with no hard shoulder, and the increase in distances between safety refuges.

Some 40 per cent of respondents said they were sceptical that new monitoring systems on SMART motorways, such as traffic detectors and CCTV, would protect them in the event of stopping in a running lane.

Part of the problem comes from a lack of understanding, as discovered by Transport Focus in its Road User Needs and Experiences report issued last month.

It said: “While some drivers were aware of smart motorways, some were not. Even those who have driven on smart motorways were not always familiar with the term, nor did they understand clearly how they operated.”

In response the IAM has produced a set of tips on using SMART motorways, and how to react on seeing different signals.

  • A red cross without flashing beacons: The hard shoulder is only for use in an emergency or breakdown.
  • A speed limit inside a red circle: It is absolutely mandatory and may have cameras enforcing it.
  • A blank signal: Usual motorway rules apply.
  • A white arrow with flashing beacons: This applies to all lanes and means you should move into the lane which the arrow points to.
  • A red cross with flashing beacons: You should not continue to use the lane.
  • A national speed limit sign is shown: The national speed limit, 70mph maximum, applies to all lanes apart from the hard shoulder.
  • Pay attention to the overhead gantries as they provide information on traffic conditions and lane access for the road ahead. The signals are:
  • Controlled motorway – these have three or more lanes with variable speed limits. Hard shoulder use is strictly for emergency use only.
  • Hard shoulder running – the hard shoulder will be opened at busy times and the speed limit will be reduced. Don’t use the hard shoulder unless overhead signs show that you can do so.
  • All-lane running – there is no hard shoulder on these sections of the motorway.  Obey the variable speed limits and do not stop on the motorway.
  • In the event of an emergency, use an emergency refuge area, motorway service area or exit at the next junction.