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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Smart Motorway



Smart Motorway - This picture shows a four lanes where their was once 3 lanes and a hard shoulder. No hard shoulder and a refuge area.  
30th April saw the end of works between Junction 5 to 7 on the M25. And it couldn't come any sooner.

This section of the M25 is now a smart motorway and their are many changes along this section. Firstly, installation of new gantries and new gantry signs. New barrier's. Refuge areas and no hard shoulder.

But first what is a 'Smart Motorway'

Their are three types of smart motorways in the UK.

Controlled motorway — Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limit's displayed on overhead gantry signs. These signs are traditional speed limit signs with a red circle around the number. The limit must be adhered too. The hard shoulder is never opened and should only be used in a genuine emergency just like standard motorway sections. [M25 Heathrow section.]

Hard shoulder running — The hard shoulder will be opened at busy times and the speed limits will be reduced. Limits are displayed on overhead gantries, as mandatory limits. Regular refuge areas are dotted along the route to aid in emergency if the hard should is opened. Do NOT use the hard shoulder unless overhead signs show that you can do so. [M42, M6 Birmingham area]

All Lane running — There is no hard shoulder on these sections of motorway. Speed limits vary with overhead gantry signs on display and emergency refuge areas are dotted along the route.

Many drivers have faced miserable journey's doubling or even tripling journey times through the road work section. Brake downs and accidents have had no refugee and thus blocking lanes and on some occasions the whole motorway. It's all been in aid of creating the smart motorway
This image showing one of the side gantries that will give 
information about traffic conditions and lane / speed operation

As drivers in the South East know, road works on the M25 have been on going for some time now. Many drivers have faced miserable journey's doubling or even tripling journey times through the road work section. Brake downs and accidents have had no refugee and thus blocking lanes and on some occasions the whole motorway. It's all been in aid of creating the smart motorway section. And the story is similar in Essex too. The cost to the project along the southern stretch past Clacket Lane is around the £125 000 mark. Expensive work, but a lot cheaper then widening the motorway. Trials have shown in the Midlands that it has given reliable journey times through the section and reduced accidents and the fact the traffic is moving steadily the environment has benefitted too with less emissions from vehicles stoping and starting in heavy traffic jams.

How does one drive through the smart motorway? Easy really. When the gantry signs show a different speed limit other then 70 mph, reduce your speed. It's recommended to stay in lane, however it is better to keep left, keeping to the near side line is in fact the correct method on any motorway and of course if the lane turns into a drop lane, and it's not your junction move into the correct lane in good time. Keep an eye on the gantry direction signs. This insures you'll not be making last second lane changes. However keep an eye on though's who haven't paid attention to the directions.

When a speed limit sign is displayed over the hard should it means it's open. You can drive on it. Check your mirrors indicate left, and move into the hard shoulder. Keep to the posted speed limit. You may find traffic in your lane starts to travel faster or is less congested then other lanes. That's fine. Keep to the speed your comfortable with but within the limit. Try not hold traffic up behind if it's clear in front however, it will only provoke tailgating. Some parts of the hard should becomes part of the slip road for the following junction. Also known as a drop lane. Signs above the lane will indicate so. Again keep an eye on the signs, check mirrors, indicate and move into the next lane in good time. If a red X is displayed, do not use the hard shoulder. It is against the law and a fine could be heading its way in the post. Only use the hard shoulder in an emergency. And if a sign above the hard should is not displayed. Again the hard shoulder is not open.

Smart motorways where the options for the hard shoulder might be open or it's an all lane running motorway - will have refuge areas. If at all possible, use these in an emergency, even if the hard shoulder is closed to running traffic. Having the empty lane next to you during your emergency only helps to keep you and your passengers a little safer.
Image showing the full width gantry

Some of these stretches have sensors built into the road and may automatically active speed limit restrictions. You may think that the section is clear, but up ahead it may not and the gantry signs are there to slow traffic down for safety and also to try and regulate the traffic flow. On the whole these sensors do a fairly good job.

Smart motorways are monitored heavily by the highways agency. Cameras dotted along the route are trained on the road and controllers monitor the video feeds 24/7. Controllers can also override the road speed sensors, depending on traffic conditions and any emergency circumstance that may be up ahead.

On the whole, smart motorways are their to help drivers continue their journeys, avoid heavy congestion and reduce accidents. Keep and eye on the signs, stick within the speed limits and you really can't go wrong.

Download the Highway's agency's leaflet regarding this section of the M25.

Information source: Highway Agency

(First published on the Mid-Kent Group of Advanced Motoring blog on 5th May 2014)

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