Changes to British motorways: What you need to know

Now winter is coming to an end and the clocks will be going forward at the end of March, you may be looking to get out and about a bit more. The brighter weather may entice you to start looking at days out or, if you are really organised… planning a holiday for the summer months. You’ll be starting to look for nice destinations that are accessible by car or if you’re seeking guaranteed sun, you’ll be travelling to the airport. It doesn’t matter where you’re going because the probability of you having to drive on a motorway is quite high. With this in mind we have written a blog highlighting what’s changing on British motorways, including news laws that all drivers need to be aware of.  

Smart phones, smart tv’s… SMART MOTOWAYS!?

Nowadays everything is becoming ‘Smart’, from your radio to your car, there’s no getting away from it and now even our motorways are becoming smart! You may not have heard of smart motorways before, however they are becoming more common in England and you’ve probably driven on one without realising it. Here’s what you need to know about them.

What are they?

Smart motorways are a lane that is used to increase the flow of traffic and reduce congestion by implementing traffic control methods during busy periods. These methods involve making the hard shoulder available for drivers to help improve the flow of traffic and overhead signs are used to give instructions.

Why have they been put in place?

The agency Highways England have developed a strategy to minimise the cost and time to build bigger roads and reduce environmental impact. There are three different types of smart motorways, dynamic hard shoulder running schemes, controlled motorway and all lane running schemes. That’s a lot to take in, but here’s what they all mean.

Hard shoulder running schemes

This method involves opening the hard shoulder as a lane for cars to drive in during busy periods where traffic is building. These lanes have a solid white line which separates it from the main carriageways. An overhead sign on the road will inform drivers whether the hard shoulder should be used. The same signs also show what the speed limit is and this can change dependant on what the conditions are. If you are on a motorway and there’s a lot of traffic, make sure you’re looking out for the overhead signs as there may be a speed limit reduction. The last thing you want is a speeding fine through the post because you didn’t see this sign. Here is where you’ll find hard shoulder running schemes…

Road Junctions
M62 25 – 30
M6 8 – 10A
M6 6 – 8
M4 19 – 20
M5 15 – 17
M1 10 – 13
M42 3a – 7
M42 7 – 9
M6 4 – 5

Controlled Motorways

These are motorways that have three or more lanes with variable speed limits. This means that the speed can change depending on the traffic, weather and other external factors. Just like the hard shoulder running motorways, a solid white line separates the live lanes and this should only be used in an emergency. The following locations have controlled motorways in place…

Road Junction
M60 8-18
M42 3a
M40 16
M1 6a-10
M26 16-23
M25 10-16
M20 4-7
M25 2-3
M25 27-30
M1 25-28

All lane running schemes

This type of motorway is pretty self-explanatory as all lanes are used permanently for running traffic including the hard shoulder. In April 2014, the m25 became the first smart section of motorway in England, with traffic driving on the new lane which was previously a hard shoulder. All lane running schemes mean that the first lane of a motorway, which used to be a hard shoulder is now a lane for free running traffic and will only be closed to traffic in the event of an incident. Just like hard shoulder schemes, an overhead sign will inform you whether the lane is shut and will also give you an indication of the speed limit.

Here’s where you’ll fine all lane running schemes…

Road Junction
M62 18-20
M6 10a-13
M3 2-4a
M25 5-6/7
M25 23-27
M1 28-31
M1 32-35a
M1 39-42

Stopping in an emergency

In an emergency, you should always try to exit the smart motorway as soon as possible. If you find your car is damaged or you have some difficulties, you should try to move to the nearest safety spot. If you do need to use the hard shoulder in an emergency, you should look for the emergency refuge areas (ERA) which are spaced often along the road. The reason for this is that the hard shoulder may be open to traffic so it’s important to keep off the lane should you need to stop.

Remember these steps if you have an emergency on a smart motorway

1. Switch on your hazard lights

1. Find the nearest ERA. These are marked with blue signs which have an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.

3. If you’re able to leave your vehicle safely, you should contact Highways England using the number provided on the ERA. Help will then be provided to you.

3. If you can’t access an ERA, then try and stop in the hard shoulder where available or as near to a verge as possible.

See the big red X? Do not ignore it!

Have you spotted the red X on electronic signs above the motorway? They are being used more regularly on British roads, and now smart motorways are becoming a thing of the norm. You’re likely to see them at some point but what do they mean? The red X is simple, it means that the lane is closed to traffic so do not drive in it.

Why is this in place?

There is a concern for people breaking down on smart motorways involving the use of the hard shoulder as there is a risk of high speed traffic passing through. The red X is displayed when there is an issue such as a breakdown or incident on the motorway, to stop traffic using the hard shoulder. Ignoring the red X is dangerous to other road users and could lead to a driving offence.

What’s the fine?

Highways England believes it’s dangerous to ignore the red X signs and penalties are likely to be introduced in spring. So far the agency have issued 80,000 warnings letters to motorists who have broken the smart motorway law since December 2016, with a third of cases relating to driving in closed lanes. Highways England expect the enforcements to commence in 2018 with a fixed penalty of £100 and three points for drivers who chose to ignore the X!

Now you know what smart motorways are and how they are being used on Britain’s roads. Just remember to stick to the signs, following all instructions and you should have a smooth onward journey.

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