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Understanding the concept of SMART motorways

“SMART motorways” is the buzzword of the moment in the motoring industry, yet the majority of drivers across the UK do not appear to know very much about the concept.

This is according to research conducted by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which polled 1,582 people about one of the significant changes to the motorway network in recent years.

Results from the survey revealed that 67 per cent of respondents felt that there has been no publicity surrounding the creation of SMART motorways in the UK. This is in spite of 44 per cent seeing the concept as a great way to reduce congestion and 43 per cent confident that they have a positive effect on their journey times.

The following guide aims to educate motorists about SMART motorways.

What are SMART motorways?

Another way to think of SMART motorways is actively managed motorways, as there are stretches of the UK’s major road network which are monitored at all times by the Highways Agency’s regional control centres.

As a result of this management, speed limits can now be quickly altered in direct reflection of current driving conditions, and the hard shoulder can be opened to all traffic during busy periods.

CCTV is also set up along the stretch of a SMART motorway network. This permits the instant deployment of Highways Agency traffic officers to incidents almost as soon as they occur.

Motorists can currently drive along a SMART motorway for an eight-mile stretch of the M25 — the length between junctions 23 and 25. However, further developments are underway to transform the routes between junctions 28 and 31 of the M1 in Derbyshire, junctions 32 and 35a of the M1 in South Yorkshire and junctions 2 and 4a of the M3 in Surrey into these advanced road networks.

The different types of SMART motorways

There are three types of SMART motorways that you need to be aware of:

Controlled motorways

This form of SMART motorway uses at least three lanes, with variable speed limits set accordingly along the stretch of road. On a controlled motorway, the hard shoulder should only be used if you encounter a genuine emergency.

Hard shoulder running

As the name suggests, hard shoulder running routes of SMART motorways will enable drivers to use the hard shoulder during congested periods. However, motorists should not drive along a hard shoulder unless the overhead signs indicate it is ok to do so.

All lane running

Head along an all lane running stretch of a SMART motorway and you should instantly notice that there is no hard shoulder. Instead, every lane is in use, with variable speed limits again being set as and when required. As a result of this design, motorists should do their upmost to stop at an emergency refuge area, a service station or by turning off at a junction if they encounter a problem.

The potential benefits of SMART motorways

Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, believes motorists should be excited with the advanced motorways. He explained: "SMART motorways are an effective and cost efficient way of increasing space on our roads, cutting jams and speeding up journey times and I am pleased to announce the start of work on these schemes."

His comments are backed up by predictions made by the government. It suggests that journey times will be improved by ten per cent along the M1 and 15 per cent on the M3 once work to create SMART motorways along these routes are complete.