Smart motorways, known previously as managed motorways, have existed in the UK since 2006 when the M42 in the West Midlands became a controlled motorway.
Today, there’s more than 400 miles of smart motorway in England and Highways England say there’ll be an extra 300 miles by 2025. The total should equal 4,000 miles when the project’s complete.
Technology, controlled from regional centres, monitors and manages the flow of traffic on smart motorways. When signs of congestion show, the hard shoulder’s opened as an extra lane and variable speed limits can be introduced to help keep traffic flowing smoothly.
There are three types of smart motorway:
At the time of writing (March 2020), the current smart motorways are:
Highways England say the M42 smart motorway shows a 22% improvement in journey reliability and personal injury accidents have reduced by more than half.
There’s also an environmental advantage of a vehicle travelling at a constant speed compared to one which is in stop-start traffic and is accelerating and braking inconsistently.
While the increased capacity may have increased air and noise pollution in the smart motorway areas, “evidence from existing smart motorway schemes suggests no significant increase in noise and air pollution. This could be partially due to the reduction in speed and smoother flow of traffic resulting in lower emissions”.
Despite Highways England’s claims of reducing personal injury numbers, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, put a hold on any further roll out of smart motorways while a review of safety concerns is carried out.
In January 2020, investigative work by BBC’s Panorama revealed a big rise in near-misses; there were 20 times more near-misses on the M25 ring road in London after ‘smart running’ was introduced. The death toll on smart motorways, over the last five years, is 38.
Work to convert a 6.5 mile stretch of the M20 into a smart motorway between West Malling and Aylesford was due to finish this month (March 2020) after two years of roadworks.
Workers will also down tools at several other major schemes that were due to finish this year including stretches of:
Concerns have also been raised around motorists breaking down on active lanes. An AA Freedom of Information request to Highways England revealed motorway lanes were closed for 945 hours (Aug 2017 – Oct 2019) due to vehicle breakdowns.
Over the same period, Highways England also reported:
Highways England offers the following advice if you find yourself broken down on a smart motorway:
Highways England offers the following advice for smart motorway driving: