Getting ready for smart motorways: Everything you need to know

More and more places are starting to turn to smart motorways, and before too long it looks likely that they will be the go-to form of motorway across the world. But because they are so new, most people are still at a loss as to what exactly they are, how to use them, how we are meant to drive on them, and other concerns. Plus: are they even safe? In this article, we will look at all of these details and more, so you can feel truly ready for smart motorways once they come to your neck of the woods.


A smart motorway is never actually an entire motorway, but only a section of one. On that section of motorway, a range of traffic management methods will be used to help increase the overall capacity on the roads, while at the same time reducing the congestion you often see in the busier areas. One of the more contentious elements to this is the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane, which many say could be potentially dangerous. Smart motorways will also tend to use variable speed limits rather than a fixed limit.


There are actually more than one type of smart motorway, so it’s good to get ready for as many of them as possible, especially if you don’t yet know which are going to crop up in your area. There are, as it happens, three major types:

  • All lane running
  • Dynamic hard shoulder
  • Controlled motorway

In the first one, the hard shoulder is temporarily removed and used as a running lane. That lane will only be closed in the event of an incident. This will be marked with a red X, and ignoring that X will be illegal – and probably highly dangerous. There will be variable speed limits throughout this type of smart motorway.

In a dynamic hard shoulder type, the hard shoulder is run as a running lane during busy periods only, as a means of reducing congestion where possible. Other than that, it will operate in more or less the same manner as the all lane running type.

Finally, the controlled motorway style has three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but also has the traditional hard shoulder for emergencies.


A lot of people are naturally concerned about smart motorways, in particular the question of whether or not they are actually safe. The absence of a hard shoulder is certainly something to be concerned about, and a lot of drivers are going to struggle with this change in particular, potentially leading to more accidents – at least at first – and an increase in cases being taken up with car crash lawyers.

However, it’s not all clear-cut. The Highways Agency argues that so far, smart motorways have actually reduced the collision rate, and that injuries have decreased in number too. There is no simple answer to the question of whether they are safe – but you do need to know how to safely drive them.


There are some essential things you should know about smart motorway driving before you get on one. For instance, you should always avoid driving in a lane with a red X. You should also keep to all speed limits, and keep your eyes out for where these change. A hard shoulder is identifiable by the inclusion of a white, unbroken line. So if you can’t see that, it’s not a hard shoulder, but a running lane.

You should use the designated emergency area if you have a problem and the hard shoulder is in operation as a running lane. As a general rule of thumb, you should exit the motorway as soon as possible if you have a problem with your vehicle – but that is already the case. If you are stuck in a lane and your car breaks down, put your hazard lights on and call the emergency services immediately, who will close the lane and send help your way. Do not attempt to leave your vehicle.

With so much to bear in mind about smart motorways, it’s no wonder that so many drivers are concerned about them. However, they are here to stay, and the best thing you can do is to be as prepared as possible for how to drive on them right now. With all this information under your belt, that should be simple.

Photo Credit: BMW

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