Are Smart Motorways Really All That Smart?

Are Smart Motorways A Good Thing?

In and around the Manchester area, motorists have spent years dealing with delays, enforced 50 mph speed limits and nighttime closures all in order to benefit from a large section of the M60 becoming a ‘Smart Motorway’ one of numerous similar projects which have taken place, are taking place and are planned to take place on busy motorways all across the country. The new Smart Motorway has started to be brought into service, but has it all been worth it? We’re keen to know what our car hire customers think.


What Is A Smart Motorway?

A smart motorway is a motorway equipped with traffic management technology which is intended to reduce congestion by increasing capacity and dynamically managing traffic speed in order to keep the lanes moving. Using a series of overhead gantries, drivers are presented with additional information and when necessary instructions which can be changed in response to busy periods and incidents as they occur. This system also allows for the hard shoulder to be opened up as a driving lane, thereby increasing capacity without having to build additional lanes.

In theory smart motorways seem like a good idea, figures from studies which have been released released also seem to suggest that they achieve their aims of reducing congestion and improving journey times without affecting safety, however in practice and after making use of them, drivers seem to be less enthused.


What’s so bad about Smart Motorways?

No Hard Shoulder

Chief among the concerns of drivers is the removal of the hard shoulder. Previously, if a vehicle got into trouble on the motorway, it had a chance of getting onto the relative safety of a lane designated for emergency use only. With Smart Motorways however, the hard shoulder can be converted to a live traffic lane and motorists have voiced concerned that the ‘Emergency Refuge Areas’ which partially replace them are, at a maximum of 1.5 miles apart, too few and distant to be safe. Lanes can be closed using the overhead gantries in the even of a breakdown, but even so, this relies on drivers noticing the red ‘X’, knowing what it means and crucially, obeying they instruction not to drive in that lane.


Policing Made More Difficult

The lack of hard shoulder also means that Police have nowhere to immediately pull motorists over, instead they have to indicate that the motorist should follow them and escort them off the motorway before they can stop safely. Inevitably this means that such stops take more time and that Police also need to waste time getting back to the motorway afterwards. In the case of an incident, it’s been reported that for the M1 in Yorkshire Police, having no hard shoulder to move affected traffic to after a collision, instead, often have to resort to closing the whole motorway.


Information Could Be Better

As well as losing the hard shoulder, it’s been reported that speed limits being dynamically imposed don’t seem to reflect traffic conditions and driver information signs don’t provide enough useful information. We’ve all driven through a 40 mph temporary speed restriction due to ‘workforce in road’ ‘Congestion’ or ‘traffic incident’, dutifully reduced our speed and a few miles down the road, having seen no trace of workers or incidents or traffic, been presented with the ‘End’ sign to indicate the entirely unwarranted speed restriction has now ended. It’s frustrating and inevitably leads to people just ignoring the signs.


Revenue Gathering Disguised as Safety?

Drivers are also suspicious of the proliferation of traffic enforcement cameras. A freedom of information request based again on the M1 Smart Motorway in Yorkshire over roughly a year to February 2018 showed that the cameras on the Smart Motorway were responsible for catching well over 18,000 incidents of speeding, whereas the police issued just under 60 tickets in the same period. The accusation, from ‘Mr Loophole’ himself being that such robotic policing catches speeding, but not bad driving, which in his view far more dangerous.


Whether You Think They’re Smart or Dumb, Smart Motorways Are Here To Stay

While smart motorways are still in their early days, there are numerous projects underway and more planned. While the concept of smart motorways seems to be sound, their execution could be better and hopefully we’ll see better implementation as time goes on. Contact us to let us know what you think.