How to stay safe on a smart motorway

Highways England reiterates tips in the wake of reports expressing concern about smart motorway safety

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance expert
1 OCTOBER 2019
2 min read
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The safety of smart motorways has recently come under criticism, with concern expressed over the time taken to identify accidents and the relative safety of breaking down on all lane running (ALR) lanes.

Plans to do away with the hard shoulder on hundreds of miles of motorway have also been criticised.

But Highways England has hit back, saying that casualty rates have been cut by 28% across nine ALR schemes.

The government body also says that an assessment of the design of the latest generation of smart motorways estimates an overall 18% reduction in risk compared to traditional motorways.

“Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety,” says Chief Highway Engineer Mike Wilson.

“Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.”

Safety guidelines

Smart motorways use technology to monitor and control the flow of traffic, with variable speed limits and signs. On some smart motorways, the hard shoulder can be temporarily opened to traffic, while on ALR motorways there are emergency refuge areas rather than a hard shoulder.

To stay safe on a smart motorway:

  • As with all motorways, keep left unless you’re overtaking
  • Don’t ignore the red X – this means the lane is closed to traffic
  • Stay within the speed limit shown on the signs – variable speed limits are set to control the flow of traffic at busy times. They can be triggered automatically by sensors in the road.
  • Know what to do if you break down: if the hard shoulder is being used as an extra lane, use the designated emergency areas – these are indicated by a blue sign with an orange SOS symbol. Also follow the advice on the Highways England website.

Highways England plan to nearly double the smart motorway network from 416 to 788 miles by 2025.