Are Smart Motorways a Good Idea

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This is a hot topic, with most agreeing that for smart motorways to work effectively, more investment in supporting technology is necessary. This is evidenced by pausing the smart motorway initiative. 

Existing Smart Motorways 

Both the M1 and M2 in Northern Ireland are now part of smart motorways network that includes Great Britain motorways M1, M3, M4, M5, M6, M20, M23, M25, M27, M40, M42, M56, M60 and M62. These upgraded areas on these motorways are now monitored and will use different methods to control the flow of traffic in busy areas of the UK. They are designed to reduce journey time to help save fuel money for commuters and help the planet by reducing our carbon footprint. The different methods they will use on each motorway is as follows:

Types of Smart Motorways 

  • Controlled Motorway scheme - they are monitored from the regional traffic centre of the area. The national speed limit is 70mph but if the centre notes that there is a high build up of congestion the centre can adjust the speed limit accordingly. Drivers are notified by the electronic signs fitted above the standard board signs.
  • All Lane Running - The hard shoulder lane becomes another official route for traffic. You can still find emergency places to stop as these are every 2.5 km along this type of smart motorway.
  • Dynamic Hard Shoulder - Again, the hard shoulder lane becomes another official route for traffic, but the difference from All Lane Running is that it will only be used at peak times. The speed limit on dynamic is restricted to 60mph as well, and the electronic screen above the gantry will have a red X above it.

Top Tips for Smart Motorway driving

  • Look out for signage  - Smart motorways will have overhead signs to advise the current motorway driving rules. They will inform which lanes are open and the speed limits for each lane and possible delays. Keep an eye on all motorway signs and follow what they say.
  • Use the open lanes - If the hard shoulder is open for driving, make use of it as the idea is to reduce congestion and reduce commuting times
  • Follow speed limits  - The speed limits will change to reflect the current road conditions, if the speed limit drops from 70 to 50 this should be followed as they have been reduced for a reason, example an accident ahead. 

Are Smart Motorways safe?

Smart Motorways Signs

This is a hot topic and evidence has forced the pause of the smart motorway rollout, paused in Jan 2022. The mail concern is the technology is not able to properly police these smart motorways. For example, people using the hard shoulder when it is closed, leading to additional accidents.

The above schemes of removing the hard shoulder lane have caused some controversy and led to the completion of the smart motorways being delayed. With them currently suspended from engineers getting them set up to become smart, the conversation about whether they will be safe or not rages on. Drivers rely on the hard shoulder for emergencies, like an accident or breakdown. Keeping it as is, totally vacant means that it can be used anywhere across the stretch of motorway for an incident, but on a smart motorway it is only every 2.5 km, and you cannot always plan to be near to this refuge area when you have a crash or breakdown. The government’s department for transport has announced they will only resume more work once more research is carried out. They estimate currently as of 2022 it will take 5 years before it is resumed again and rolled out fully across all motorways.

Either way, ensure that you are adequately insured for all kinds of outcomes while driving on a smart motorway by getting car insurance NI or temporary car insurance if you are borrowing a friend or family member's car. 

Do Smart Motorways have Cameras?

Yes, smart motorways have cameras to monitor driving and any infringements on the driving rules. For example, in NI, National Highways have recently upgraded 95 cameras to detect any cars ignoring red X lane closure signals. They can also detect other offences including anyone is speeding over 70mph or what speed limit they have adjusted it to if the area is congested. The cameras on the smart motorways you may not notice either, as they have been chosen as they are more inconspicuous. 

What happens if you go over the Speed Limit on a Smart Motorway?

If you are caught breaking the speed limit, then you can be fined up to £2500 and given 6 penalty points on your licence. If you drive on a dynamic hard shoulder and break the 60mph limit, you get a £100 fine and 3 penalty points on your licence. Such offences can lead to looking for convicted car insurance with convictions and paying more as a result. 

Smart motorways prevent traffic bunching (long queues) by using variable speed limits and using the hard shoulder as a regular lane to ease traffic flow. For motorway driving, make sure you understand what the different road stud colours mean. 

What is an Emergency Refuge Area (ERA)?

These are located every 1.5 miles and are designed to replace the hard shoulder should you need to pull over. These can be identified by orange SOS symbols and blue road markings, and emergency SOS phones will be available.  

Final Thoughts

The idea behind smart motorways is to reduce commute times for all drivers. The problem is that they have not been properly implemented, with not enough investment in upgrading technology to properly police smart motorways. End result, the rollout has been paused while solutions are found for the obvious problems associated with smart motorways.

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