What Are Smart Motorways? How Do They Prevent Traffic Bunching?

Smart motorways have become a hot topic among drivers in the UK. These motorways, make up approximately 13% of the motorway network in England, and use the latest technology to ensure the traffic flow. However, there are significant issues concerning the design and safety of smart motorways, which prompted the Government to stop the creation of new smart motorways in its road construction initiatives.

Despite this, there is still a long list of smart motorways currently in use. This means that drivers and passengers must understand how to engage the smart motorway safely. This blog will help you understand smart motorways in UK and effectively answer all your questions.


What is a Smart Motorway?

A smart motorway is a stretch of roads that uses technology to control traffic flow and ease congestion. Smart motorways, in Scotland also known as an Intelligent Transport System uses ATM (Active Traffic Management) techniques & MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection & Automatic Signalling) technology that includes the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the traffic flow. In England, there are 193 miles of smart motorways including all the lanes and hard shoulders that are being always used for traffic.

Different Types of Smart Motorways in UK

There are three types of smart motorways in the United Kingdom the following are the types that work in separate ways.

1. All-Lane Running Smart Motorway

An all-lane running motorway is the first type of smart motorway in which the hard shoulder is permanently removed and used as an extra running lane. On these motorways, the former hard shoulder, which is now the lane one, is only shut down for use by other vehicles in the event of an incident and is signified by the Red X shown either on overhead signals or even on the verge of the motorway. Ignoring these smart motorway signs can be extremely dangerous. The speed limit on this motorway is adjusted depending on traffic conditions.

2. Dynamic Hard Shoulder

Dynamic hard shoulder is the second type of smart motorway that uses the hard shoulder as another lane during the peak traffic time to control the traffic. This type of motorway is marked by a solid white line separating it from the regular lanes, with overhead signs to indicate when to use this hard shoulder. This lane cannot be used if the sign displayed is blank or shows red X, unless there is an emergency. Using the hard shoulder is illegal and extremely dangerous in non-emergency situations.

3. Controlled Motorway

Controlled motorway, the third type of the motorway has three or more lines that uses variable speed limits displayed on overhead signs. This type also has a traditional hard shoulder, which is used only during emergencies.

Are Smart Motorways Dangerous?

Smart motorways are not dangerous, but most people think these smart motorways are more dangerous than regular motorways.

The smart motorways are safe, as they can spot the broken-down vehicle or any other incident through radars and cameras, the warning signs are supposed to close the affected lanes. However, removing the hard shoulder on motorways has raised concerns about the safety of drivers who break down and the main worries raised are with the helpless cars in fast traffic and difficulty for emergency vehicles.

As reported by BBC Panorama, according to the data under FOI (Freedom of Information) on smart motorways, there were 397 incidents between June 2022 and February 2024 when smart motorways lost power, making it difficult to detect when and where a vehicle broke down.

What are the Benefits of Smart Motorways?

Smart motorways in the UK are designed to improve traffic flow, increase road capacity, and enhance overall safety. However, these advanced motorways offer several benefits that contribute for a more efficient and reliable transportation network. And below are a few smart motorways benefits.

What You Need to Know Before Driving on a Smart Motorways

Keep in mind these 3 things before getting on to a smart motorway in the UK for a safe and confident ride.

Speed Sign

Watch Out For Signs: There are Overhead Signs that signal Lane Availability, Speed Restriction, Traffic and/or Accidents and other miscellaneous messages and prompt to stick to them when on Smart Motorways.

Speed Sign
Open Lane
Open Lane

Use the Open Lanes: At first, it may seem rather counterintuitive; still, utilizing the separated lane helps minimise traffic density and makes the overall driving experience less challenging.

Speed Limit

Stick to the Speed Limit: It also requires compliance to the speed limit signage posted for safety reasons and one must driving slowly and be very keen.

Speed Limit
Cross mark
Cross mark

Never Ignore Red X sign: Red X means, the lane is closed, and you must not use it. Ignoring this sign fined up to £100 and three penalty points.

By remembering the above points, one should follow the rules of smart motorways to ensure a safe and smooth driving experience on smart motorways in the UK.

Smart Motorway Rules

Smart motorways in the UK do have some rules, just like all normal road rules and laws. Navigating through these smart motorways can be different than the conventional roadways and below are a few smart motorway regulations, you must follow when driving.

1. Smart Motorways Speeding

Speeding is one of the most important rules you need to follow when driving on smart motorways, just like on regular roadways. But the only difference is with more cameras on smart motorways, drivers are more likely to get caught and fined for speeding. The maximum penalty for speeding is £1000, or £2500 for those caught exceeding the limit on motorways.

2. Follow The Red X Sign

The second most important rule to follow is the Red X sign, ignoring this sign can be an offense, and as camera enforcement, can see drivers face an automatic fine up to £100 and three penalty points for not following the Red X sign rule.

What does Red Cross (X) mean? and Where You Can See the Symbol?

Red X sign means, the lane is closed, and you must not use it. Whether you see this sign on the regular lane or on a hard should or on a motorway hard shoulder, you must follow the rule and not drive on the lane.

You can find the red X sign, either on the overhead gantry or on the cantilever sign at the side of the road.

Why is Red X Sign Important?

Red X sign on smart motorways is important for one's safety, as they are designed to manage the traffic, the following are a few reasons why the red X sign is important.

How Do Smart Motorways Prevent Traffic Bunching?

Smart motorways prevent traffic bunching by using variable speed limits that are displayed on overhead gantries to prevent traffic congestion. These speed limits are dynamic and are adjusted to reflect the current traffic flow. This system helps prevent traffic bunching and promotes a more efficient driving experience for drivers.

What is an ERA in a Smart Motorway?

ERA (Emergency Refuge Areas) or SOS areas are emergency lay-bys located on smart motorways and are designed to offer a safe place for stranded vehicles on roads without hard shoulder. These SOS areas are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol.

How to Use ERA:

In case you need to stop on the road, use your indicators effectively as you move into the ERA. Once there, a telephone marked ‘SOS’ should be used, and this will set off an alarm in the control centre to indicate the position of the user.

How to Use ERA
Rejoining Traffic:

When you are free to do so, find a comfortable space in the traffic and turn your wheels slowly towards the motorway lanes you want to join.

Tips for Driving on Smart Motorways in the UK

Follow these to avoid inconvenience while driving on a smart motorway

What To Do If My Car Breaks Down on A Smart Motorway?

To help avoid/ deal with a breakdown on a smart motorway, below are some of the important things you must understand to be safe and of lower your stress level. Here is a guide on what to do:

Does Warranty Direct’s Breakdown Assistance Attend Breakdowns on Smart Motorways? How?

Yes, Warranty Direct does offer the service of breakdown on smart motorways. Here is how it works.

If your car breaks down on the highway more than a quarter of a mile from your house, Warranty Direct's roadside assistance will respond. If possible, they will attempt to repair your car on the spot.

If they are unable to repair it within a reasonable period, they will transport your car to the nearest approved repairer or a nearby destination of your choosing. If you select an alternative destination, there may be a fee. If neither of these choices are available, they will offer information on the nearest approved repairer.

So, with Warranty Direct, you can be certain that you will receive assistance even if you break down on a smart motorway.

What Motorways are Smart Motorways? And Where Are They Located?

Smart Motorways in the UK covers almost 396 miles and as mentioned above, there are three types of smart motorways. The following table and the smart motorways map help you find the lanes in the UK.

All-Lane Running Dynamic Hard Shoulder Controlled Motorway
M1 J16 to J13
J19 to J16
J24 to J25
J28 to J31
J32 to J35a
J39 to J42
J10 to J13 J6a to J10
J23a to 24
J25 to J28
J31 to J32
M3 J2 to 4a
M4 J3 to J12 J19 to J20
M5 J4 to J6 J15 to J17
M6 J2 to J4
J10a to J13
J13 to J15
J16 to J19
J4 to J10a J10a to J11a
M20 J3 to J5 J4 to J7
M25 J5 to J6/7
J23 to J27
J2 to J3
J7 to J23
M23 J8 to J10
M27 J4 to J11
M42 J7 to J9
M60 J8 to J18
M62 J10 to J12
J18 to J20
J25 to J26
J23 to J30 J28 to J29

Smart Motorways Map

Smart Motorways Map

FAQS on Smart Motorways

1. How do smart motorways detect rested vehicles?

Smart motorways identify stationary cars using a mix of CCTV cameras and radar technologies. This method enables the control centre to immediately detect and respond to events.

2. Who is responsible for smart motorways?

Highways England manages and operates the UK's smart motorways.

3. Do smart motorways have speed cameras?

Yes, smart motorways include speed cameras to enforce changing speed restrictions and increase road safety.

4. Where are the smart motorway speed cameras located?

Smart motorway cameras are often installed on overhead gantries and along the side of the road, monitoring all lanes of traffic.

5. Do smart motorway speed cameras flash?

Most smart motorway speed cameras do not flash when capturing a photo since they employ infrared technology to collect photographs covertly.

6. Are smart motorway cameras always on?

Yes, smart highway cameras are always functioning, continually monitoring traffic to enforce speed limits and detect problems.

7. What speed are smart motorway cameras set at?

The speed cameras on smart motorways are programmed to enforce the displayed speed limit, which may change based on traffic circumstances.

8. What happens if you go over the speed limit on a smart motorway?

If you violate the speed limit on a smart highway, you may face a speeding ticket and points on your driver's licence. Smart highway speed camera continually monitors traffic and can impose fines for breaches. The smart motorway speed cameras tolerance is normally set at a margin over the speed limit, however carefully adhering to it is recommended to avoid fines.

9. How to avoid smart motorways?

To avoid smart highways, plan your itinerary with a map or GPS that allows you to choose between alternate routes. Check traffic updates and avoid locations renowned for having smart highways.

10. Which parts of the M6 are smart motorways?

The smart motorway M6 includes sections between Junctions 2-4, 5-8, and 10a-13. These parts have variable speed restrictions and use the hard shoulder as a jogging lane during peak hours.


Smart motorways were distinguished as a development, they are a leap forward in how we continue to modernize our roads. By employing intelligent technologies to control the flow of vehicles, they contribute to the reduction of traffic congestion, enhanced safety, and decreased deterioration of the environment. Though the approach remains questionable in terms of their applicability and efficiency, continuous advancements and variations indicate that futures hold steady. Ultimately, smart motorways are intelligent solutions designed to accommodate increasing traffic demands.

© 2024 – All Rights Reserved