Blue sky with motorway screens and signs overhead, with white text

How Smart Are 'Smart Motorways'?

It seems like ‘smart motorways’ have been around forever! 

But does anyone actually know their purpose? 

Heres all the information you need to stay smart when driving on a smart motorway! 

Smart Motorways use ATM (Active Traffic Management) to reduce congestion by opening another lane with varying speed limits.

The construction of smart motorways has been ongoing since 2006 with the M42 being the first.

Highway England is the branch of Government responsible for these painstaking ‘smart commutes’ that show no sign of slowing down! (But are content with slowing commuters down.)

There are three types of smart motorways: Controlled motorways, Dynamic hard shoulder and All-Lane Running. 

Controlled motorways - Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with varied speed limits and a hard shoulder for genuine emergencies. The varied speed limits are displayed on the overhead screens and can change in times of congestion or accidents.
Dynamic Hard Shoulder- This motorway Involves opening the hard shoulder as a running lane during busy periods to reduce traffic. This will be indicated by the overhead gantries displaying messages stating this or varied speed limits being shown.
All- Lane Running- ALR permanently removes the hard shoulder and turns it into a running lane. The former hard shoulder is only ever closed to traffic if there has been an incident.

Highways England recently looked at data collected since the beginning of smart motorways in 2006 and found, that journey reliability increased by 22% and personal injury accidents reduced by more than 50%! 

Where accidents did occur, the severity was much lower with 0 fatalities.

These were good figures at the time which would have only strengthened the need for smart motorways with reduced risk.

However, now that Smart motorways are more commonplace, more issues have occurred. 

Smart Motorway Issues:

The majority of motorways are managed by a network who have no effective system of automatic alerts.

They rely on a system called MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling) which monitors traffic flow to attempt to detect a vehicle that has broken down and isn’t moving.

Reports have shown that the process to detect a broken down vehicle through MIDAS could take, on average, 17 minutes. 

Highways England then has to display a sign to notify other motorists who then all need to move out of that lane to avoid colliding with the broken down vehicle, This whole process could be as long as 5 minutes which could mean broken down drivers are stranded in a live lane for a minimum of 20 minutes. 

An average of 26 drivers per day breakdown on smart motorways, left at the mercy of MIDAS. 

What is even more concerning, a former AA patrol officer confirmed to the BBC that crews are instructed to head to a safe area nearby and wait for Highways England to move the member’s car there before working on it.

The AA is so concerned about the safety risks on smart motorways that they have instructed its recovery crews not to stop at breakdowns on the controversial roads.

Follow Eurofit Autocentres for a series of blogs on how you can stay safe on smart motorways.

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