How to drive safely and legally on England’s smart motorways.

The UK’s new smart motorway uses advanced technology to actively manage the flow of traffic. The technology is controlled from a central traffic control centre. This centre monitors motorway traffic carefully and can activate and change signs including speed limits. This will help keep the motorway traffic flowing freely.

Smart motorways increase the capacity of the road, without the expense of widening the road, by either temporarily or permanently opening the hard shoulder to all traffic.

Highways England is responsible for smart motorways in England.

On a smart motorway:

  1. Never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”
  2. Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
  3. A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed.
  4. A broken white line indicates a normal running lane
  5. If your vehicle experiences difficulties, eg warning light, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
  6. Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
  7. Put your hazard lights on if you break down and use warning signs!

Look out for the RED X

One of the most important signs to look out for on a smart motorway is the red X. This indicates that a motorway lane is closed.

If you do see a red X closing a lane, move out of that lane as quickly as possible. If you don’t, you will probably receive a fine.

A lane can be closed for many reasons like debris in the road, or because of a person or animal might be on the road. There may be an accident or a breakdown up further ahead. They may be keeping the lane clear for the emergency services, such as an ambulance, Police or the Fire Service.

So for your own safety and the safety of other road users, never drive in a lane closed by a red X.

In an emergency on the motorway

Prevention is always better than cure: please keep your car well maintained, check your vehicle tyres and make sure you have enough fuel for your journey ahead. All motorists should have their own recovery arrangements in the event of a breakdown. It is advised that you have breakdown cover and always carry details of this with you as you never know when you might need it.

Always try to exit the smart motorway as quickly as possible if your vehicle is damaged or experiences a fault. If this is not possible, move into the nearest place of relative safety.

On most motorways in the UK this will be the hard shoulder. On a smart motorway the hard shoulder may already be open to traffic.

In this case you’ll see an emergency refuge areas (ERA) spaced regularly along the motorway. Make your way to the nearest one.

You should follow these steps:

  1. Use an emergency refuge area if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
  2. If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. We will either send a traffic officer to help you, or set the motorway signs to temporarily clear lane 1 to assist you to rejoin the motorway.
  3. If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.
  4. In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

If you do stop in the nearside lane next to a hard shoulder or verge and feel you are able to exit safely with any occupants, consider exiting your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door, and wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one and safe to do so.

If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, or there is no other place of relative safety to wait then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone, if you have a warning sign then you should deploy it if it is safe to do so.

Once the regional traffic control centre is aware of your situation, via the police or roadside technology such as CCTV, they can use the smart motorway technology to set overhead signs and close the lane to help keep traffic away from you. They will also send a traffic officer or the police to help you.

Hard shoulder use

On smart motorways in the UK you will see refuge areas spaced regularly alongside the motorway. You should use these ONLY in emergencies.

This is because on some smart motorways the hard shoulder can be opened up for traffic to use at busy times. If it is open for use you will see a speed limit displayed over it.

If there is no sign, or a red X is displayed, then normal hard shoulder rules apply. In other words, do not use it except in emergency.

A hard shoulder is always clearly identified with a solid white unbroken line.

On other types of smart motorway, the hard shoulder has been permanently converted into an extra lane. Where this is the case the lane looks like any other lane, ie it is marked with a broken white line.

For more information please see this link:

All credit is to the above link