There is an ever increasing number of smart motorways in England this in when the hard shoulder is used by vehicles as a running lane and the flow of the traffic is controlled by variable speed limits dependant on prevailing conditions.
Highways England (previously the Highways Agency) has developed smart motorways to increase volume and reduce congestion, by using the hard shoulder as a running lane the need to build additional lanes is removed which saves money and reduces the effects on the local environment. Currently we have three types of schemes which are classed as smart motorways:
- All lane running schemes
- Controlled motorway
- Dynamic hard shoulder running schemes
All lane running schemes
As the name suggests all lane running smart motorways use the hard shoulder permanently as a running lane for traffic.
Under all lane running schemes, the inside lane (previously the hard shoulder) is only closed to traffic if there is an accident motorists can clearly see this as there will be a red cross displayed on the overhead and verge mounted cantilever signs. On these sections broken white lines between all lanes indicates that each lane has the same status.
Just as in the dynamic hard shoulder schemes, overhead signs show the mandatory speed limit which varies depending on the traffic conditions and speed cameras are used to enforce these. Signs can also be used to close lanes should that be required.
If an incident occurs in the inside lane (previously the hard shoulder) – a red cross (X) symbol is displayed to let motorists know the lane has been closed to traffic. Driving in a lane under which the red X symbol is being shown is illegal and could lead to you prosecution.
CCTV is used to monitor traffic for any incidents. Should drivers break down or be involved in an accident there are emergency refuge areas at the side of the carriageway for them to use. These are typically further apart than current sections of motorway operating the dynamic hard shoulder running configuration, with an average spacing of 1.5 miles apart.
Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but retains a hard shoulder. The hard shoulder should only be used in a genuine emergency.
Dynamic hard shoulder running schemes
Dynamic hard shoulder running involves opening the hard shoulder as a running lane to traffic at busy periods to ease congestion. The scheme, which was initially developed on the M42 in the Midlands, is now in operation on sections of the M42, M1, M6, M4 and M5.
On these stretches a solid white line differentiates the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway. Overhead signs on gantries indicate whether or not the hard shoulder is open to traffic. They also display the mandatory speed limit which can vary according to the traffic conditions. Speed cameras are used to enforce the variable speed limits.
If an incident occurs in the inside lane (previously the hard shoulder) – a red X symbol is displayed to let motorists know the lane has been closed to traffic. Driving under a red X sign is illegal. The hard shoulder must not be used if the signs over it are blank or display a red X, except in the case of an emergency.
CCTV is used extensively to monitor traffic for any incidents. Should drivers break down or be involved in an accident there are emergency refuge areas at the side of the carriageway for them to use.
What to do if you break down on a smart motorway
Should you have the misfortune of having a accident or break down on a smart motorway you should follow the steps below:
- Use an emergency refuge area (ERA) if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them. Different types of smart motorways have different ERA spacing, but the furthest you will be away from one is around 1.5 miles.
- If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area, you should try to move on to the verge if there is no safety barrier and it is safe to do so.
- In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.
- If you stop in the nearside lane, leave your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door if it is safe to do so and wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one. If you are unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seat belt on.
- If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone.