England’s motorways ‘get smart’

This week the Highways Agency launched its ‘smart motorways’, which make use of new technology to vary speed limits and help traffic in response to what’s happening on the road.

Managed by the Highways Agency regional control centres, it has the ability to open the hard shoulder for normal road users under (either permanently or when there are high levels of congestion) and change speed limits.

These changes mean that some motorways in our patch are now using ‘all lane running’, including the M25 from the A10 to the A1 westbound, and from Potters Bar to the A10 eastbound.

This means the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a traffic lane on these sections of the motorway. Instead of the hard shoulder there are regularly spaced emergency refuge areas for the public, each one with an emergency telephone. 

If there is a road traffic collision on one of these sections of motorway, the Highways Agency can identify it through CCTV and close any lane by displaying a red ‘X’ on the gantries, moving traffic away from the incident and keeping it clear for us and other emergency vehicles. The public are not allowed to drive in a lane with a red ‘X’ displayed over it.

A full list of the motorways affected can be found on the Highways Agency website. The smart motorway options are:

  • all lane running: As described above, this means that the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a traffic lane, usually making it a four-lane motorway. 
  • hard shoulder running: The hard shoulder can be opened to normal road users at busy times and the speed limit will be reduced. Overhead signs will signal if this is active. 
  • controlled motorway: Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limits that can be changed remotely. Normal road users can only use the hard shoulder in a genuine emergency.
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