What are smart motorways?
Smart motorways are popping up all over the UK in high traffic areas. They have electronic signs overhead to direct traffic, which can be changed from a central Highways Agency control room.
These innovative signs are designed to ease congestion and keep things moving smoothly if there's been a crash or poor weather.
Smart motorway signs
Blank signs on smart motorways just mean business as usual, so you can drive in this lane at the normal national speed limit for motorways. If there is a dynamic hard shoulder, only use it emergencies.
Arrow with flashing dots:
The arrow means you need to move into the next lane in the direction it's pointing. Check the sign above the lane you're moving into - it may be a different speed limit.
This means the lane is closed, due to an accident or road works - move into another lane when it is safe. You will also see this over the dynamic hard shoulder when it is not to be used except in an emergency.
When a speed limit is showing it overrides usual motorway rules. The speed shown is the maximum you may go.
National speed limit:
This sign means you can travel at the national speed limit for motorways. Don't go into autopilot though - it could change again.
Variable speed limits
Variable speed limits allow traffic controllers to change motorway lane speed limits with light-up signs instead of the usual national speed limit.
This is to ease congestion: if the limit is slower as you’re driving, you won’t hit the traffic ahead so quickly and it may have cleared by the time you get there.
You’ll still get where you want to go in the same time, but you won’t be stuck in a traffic jam that could take hours to clear. Pretty clever!
Smart motorway speed cameras
The new smart motorways are regulated by speed cameras.
Even though the speed limit on one stretch of motorway could be different from one day to the next, it’s your job to look out for the speed you shouldn’t be going over.
The cameras are triggered by any speed over the limit currently showing, but at national speed limit (when the signs may be off) the cameras won’t automatically operate – though they could actually be on at any time if local police choose to use them.
The dynamic hard shoulder
Unlike all other motorways, smart motorways make use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane. This is only used to ease traffic jams during busy times.
You'll know it's the hard shoulder because it's still separated by a solid white line, and the sign above will tell you the conditions for its use - like the speed limit.
If there is a red X or NO SIGN showing above this lane, it is NOT in use and you must not move into it unless it's an emergency. Otherwise, the dynamic hard shoulder follows the general rules of smart motorways above.
Smart motorways are going to make driving on the UK's busiest roads a lot easier over the next few years. There are a few rules to learn, but it's worth it to avoid traffic jams!
Find out more about motorway driving.
Photos: The Highways Agency