Previously known as ‘managed motorways’, a smart motorway is a section of motorway that uses a combination of variable speed limits and hard shoulder running at busy times, to increase road capacity and traffic flow.

Benefits to smart motorways

As a driver, you are hopefully aware that the speed limit on UK motorways is 70mph. However, this might not always be the case on a stretch of smart motorway. Sometimes, to keep traffic flowing safely and smoothly, motorway speeds may be managed by overhead signs.

When everything is running as it should be, these electronic signs are switched off, but if there is disruption, the signs can direct drivers to reduce the speed of their vehicles.
For example, if weather conditions are hazardous, smart motorway signs may change the speed limit to 50mph.

motorway-sign

Furthermore, the overhead signs can indicate if a lane has been closed. A red cross states that drivers should stop using that particular lane and move over into one which is still open. A lane is usually closed if there is an obstruction ahead, such as debris from a collision.

Occasionally, to ease congestion caused by a lane closure, electronic signs can let drivers know that they may use the hard shoulder as an additional lane.

In addition to smoother traffic flows and reduced congestion, other benefits to active traffic management include more dependable journey times, fewer collisions, reduced noise pollution, and harmful vehicle emissions.

The Highways Agency website provides further information about which symbols may be used on smart motorways, and what they mean. Click here to find out more.

Some individuals might dislike being slowed down on the motorway; but speed restrictions are always in place to benefit motorists, either by keeping traffic moving, or by preventing accidents.

In 2011 the Highways Agency published a three-year safety report which showed how safety had improved since the installation of the electronic overhead signs. In those three years, the number of injuries sustained in road accidents reduced by 55.7%.

Smart motorways and car insurance

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