Smart Motorways – Are they worth the time you save in peak travel times?

For those readers that are not based in the UK, a Smart Motorway is where a section of the road uses ATM (Active Traffic Management) to monitor the flow of traffic and reduce the speed of vehicles and increase the number of lanes open to traffic – usually the only lane that isn’t already being used is the hard shoulder and this is where a problem occurs. The hard shoulder is the lane that is used by the Emergency Services to reach stranded motorists or where broken down vehicles and their occupants wait to be rescued.

Since Smart Motorways have been in use there have been 38 deaths in the last 5 years (I believe the first instance on the hard shoulder being opened to general traffic was on the M42 back in 2005). In the UK we currently have approximately 400 miles of Smart Motorway throughout our 2,200-mile motorway network. However, only 25 miles of the Smart Motorways have the correct technology to spot a stationary vehicle quickly.



On the other 375 miles of “Smart Motorway” that are yet to be fitted with the technology to spot a stranded vehicle quickly, it takes an average of 17 minutes to be ‘spotted’ and a further 17 minutes for help to reach you. That’s 34 minutes spent in danger, I know most people will do the sensible thing and get behind the barriers for protection but let’s be realistic it takes time to get everyone out of the car safely (I’m thinking of a family with children and maybe a baby) plus there’s always that “it won’t happen to me” mentality.




With cars, buses and lorries hurtling past you at anywhere between 58MPH and 70MPH (if they are obeying the speed limit) why would you stay in your vehicle? Sometimes you don’t have a choice, some of these roads do not have a side or embankment for you to safely wait, even once you’ve crawled from the driver’s seat to climb out.

The UK government are currently preparing a review on Smart Motorways and it is believed that the recommendation will be to build more emergency laybys where if you breakdown next to one you can pull in and be relatively safe and they will share the ‘Car Detection System’ that is currently on 25 miles of the M25 across the rest of the network within 3 years!

I have a simpler solution that might even save the lives of many drivers and passengers,

  • Revert all Smart Motorway back to standard motorway until all the safety measures are in place.
  • Educate people how to use the Smart Motorways before opening them again – including tourist and commercial drivers when they enter the UK.

For the record in answer to my question about are they worth the time saved in peak times it is my opinion that they most definitely are NOT!