Since the UK’s first Smart Motorway was successfully trialled on the M42 in 2006, there have been a lot of discussions about the future of motorway infrastructure. Most recently, critics have reacted to the paused rollout of Smart Motorways by saying they are potentially dangerous. This page provides information on what Smart Motorways are, how safe they are, how many have been built across the UK and whether they have a future.
A smart motorway (known as an Intelligent Transport System in Scotland) is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to regulate traffic flow and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas.
There are three different types of this:
All three models use overhead gantries to direct drivers and tell drivers whether they can drive on the hard shoulder (by using a red X).
There are currently 44 stretches of Smart Motorway in operation or under construction across 14 motorways in England. Most of these are on the M1, M6 and M25. The majority are in England’s south-east and around Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield.
In Scotland, Intelligent Transport Systems are in use on the M9 to M90 and the M90-to A823(M).
You can find more details on this map provided by National Highways.
All normal road rules and laws apply on smart motorways – and, yes, that includes Smart Motorways speed cameras that follow the variable speed limits. Drivers also face an automatic £100 fine and three penalty points for ignoring the red X sign, as driving through it can be extremely dangerous.
Earlier this year (2022), the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that it is pausing the roll-out of new Smart Motorways for five years while it collates and analyses safety evidence. The decision came two months after a House of Commons committee recommended stopping the introduction of all lane running systems amid concerns around the roads’ safety. Some critics have said that the all lane running system has contributed to fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind. The DfT has pledged £900 million to upgrade existing smart motorways, including £390 million to install extra emergency refuge areas.
According to the RAC, carriageways that won’t now be turned into all-lane-running motorways until after the review is completed include the M3 J9–14, the M40/M42 interchange, the M62 J20–25 and the M25 J10–16.
As well as never driving in a lane closed by a red X and keeping to the variable speed limits, here are a couple more tips on how to stay safe on a Smart Motorway: