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Staying safe on smart motorways

   Staying safe on smart motorways

An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama has revealed that at least 38 people have been killed on the UK’s smart motorway network since 2015. 

The figure – recorded over five years – is significant because it only makes up a small proportion of the total miles of the country’s road.

But what is a smart motorway?

A smart motorway is a section of road that uses active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase capacity by use of variable speed limits, and hard shoulder running at busy times.

There are three main types of smart motorway:

Dynamic hard shoulder running: This system, currently in operation on the M42, M1, M6 and M5, means that the hard shoulder is sometimes used as an extra lane if traffic flows are heavy. Motorways with dynamic hard shoulder running have a solid white line to differentiate it from the normal carriageway. The emergency refuges are spaced at 500-800 meters apart.

All lane running (ALR): This type of motorway uses the hard shoulder as a permanent “live” running lane for traffic. All running lanes have broken white lines, with the former hard shoulder only being closed in an emergency. On all lane running motorways the emergency refuges are spaced 2.5km apart. 

Controlled motorways: These have three or more lanes with variable speed limits controlled by electronic signs, but a normal hard shoulder that may only be used in a genuine emergency.

The most dangerous and controversial aspect of the UK smart motorway network is the removal of the hard shoulder. This is because it limits the options of a driver that needs to exit live traffic if they get into difficultly.

If you break down…

If your vehicle malfunctions while in live traffic on a smart motorway, always try to exit the motorway immediately.

If that’s not possible, you should follow these steps:
  1. Try not to panic
  2. Use an emergency refuge area if you can reach one safely and exit the vehicle using the left hand door and get behind the safety barrier
  3. If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside free emergency telephone provided in all emergency areas. If you can’t get to the emergency telephone but have a mobile phone with you, call 0300 123 5000.
However if you unable to move your vehicle and are stuck in live traffic, put hazard lights on, remain in your vehicle and call 999 and Highways England. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is safer to stay in your vehicle rather than try to cross the motorway on foot. 

For information, look at the UK Government advice about driving on smart motorways.

Smart motorways under review

The transport secretary Grant Shapps said recently: “We absolutely have to have these as safe or safer than regular motorways, or we shouldn’t have them at all.”

It is understood Mr Shapps has asked Department for Transport officials to review evidence on the safety of smart motorways, with recommendations expected to follow soon.

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, whose constituent was killed in a collision on a stretch of the M1 where all lane running was in place, has called for smart motorways to be scrapped entirely.

At RoSPA, we have been urging authorities to monitor the safety of smart motorways for more than a decade. In order to help prevent further accidents and loss of life, it is important that all lane running and dynamic hard shoulder running is examined.

Smart motorways ought to be at least as safe as the traditional motorway it replaces.

Nick Lloyd,
head of road safety, RoSPA

You can read more about RoSPA’s advice about driving safely on smart motorways here
Posted: 1/27/2020 5:09:31 PM 3 comments


5/13/2020 10:13:30 AM

Anthony Clark

I think I was flashed on the smart motorway, the nearside lane was under lane closed red cross, having passed the obstruction after observing the regulations, with the lane clear ahead and with good visibility, I moved into the closed lane at the count down markers in order to leave the motorway at the upcoming junction. Am I in the wrong and if so what action should I have taken??

2/4/2020 4:05:53 PM


Hi Marten, thanks for your comment. In the event of a breakdown, use any momentum left in your motorcycle to reach lane one of the motorway. When it is safe to do so, leave the vehicle from the left side and call for help using the emergency telephone or your mobile phone. Do not put yourself in danger by attempting even simple repairs. You should wait for assistance behind the barrier.

2/3/2020 11:10:05 PM

Marten Matthews

How can a motorcyclist survive in the situation above (seems not to be clear especially if break down in open lanes)

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