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What Are the New Smart Motorways and Why Are They Being Earmarked for Removal?


Apr 18, 2023

Smart motorways are a relatively new concept in the transport world, designed to ease congestion on the UK’s busiest roads. They were introduced in 2006 and are seen as a way of using existing road infrastructure to increase capacity without having to build new roads. However, the safety of these motorways has been called into question – with some experts calling for them to be removed altogether.

So, what are smart motorways and why are they causing such controversy?

What Are Smart Motorways?

Smart motorways use technology to actively manage traffic flow to improve capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas. The idea is that the hard shoulder is opened up as a running lane during peak traffic times, thereby increasing the number of lanes and allowing traffic to flow more freely. In addition, there are a range of other measures, such as variable speed limits and ramp metering at junctions, which are used to control the flow of traffic more effectively.

The system is designed to be more flexible and responsive than traditional motorways, where capacity might be increased by building new lanes or simply making existing lanes wider. Smart motorways can be implemented without any major construction work, which makes them attractive to policymakers looking to improve transport links without the need for significant expenditure.

Why Are They Being Earmarked for Removal?

The reason that some experts are calling for smart motorways to be removed is that there is evidence to suggest that they are not as safe as traditional motorways. One of the key changes that has been made to motorways in recent years is the removal of the hard shoulder as a place of safety for broken-down vehicles. Instead, drivers are expected to use emergency refuge areas (ERAs) if they break down or suffer a puncture, but there are currently too few of these on the network.

The key issue with smart motorways, therefore, is that there is no guarantee that an ERA will be available when a driver needs it. This can be a serious problem, as drivers who break down in live lanes are at increased risk of being involved in a crash. In fact, research suggests that the risk of a collision is 216% higher on smart motorways without a hard shoulder than on traditional motorways.

There is also evidence to suggest that the recovery time for broken-down vehicles on smart motorways is longer than on traditional motorways. This is because the technology used to control traffic flow can create blockages that prevent recovery vehicles from getting to the scene of a breakdown. This can increase the risk of secondary collisions, and also means that drivers who break down face longer delays before they can be removed from the carriageway.

What Changes Are Being Made?

In response to concerns about the safety of smart motorways, the government has announced a number of changes to the way they operate. These include:

  • Increasing the frequency of ERAs – the government has committed to reducing the distance between emergency refuge areas from 1.5 miles to 1 mile, where possible.
  • Reducing the speed limit to 60mph when the hard shoulder is being used – this is designed to reduce the risk of collisions and make it easier for drivers to understand the rules of the road.
  • Introducing a ‘stopped vehicle detection’ system – this technology will be used to detect vehicles that have broken down or stopped in live lanes and ensure that they are detected and dealt with quickly.
  • Strengthening the guidance for using smart motorways – the government has committed to providing clearer guidance for drivers on how to use smart motorways safely, including advice on what to do in the event of a breakdown.

While these changes have been welcomed by many, some experts argue that they do not go far enough. There is a growing consensus that the only way to make smart motorways safe is to reintroduce the hard shoulder as a place of safety for broken-down vehicles. This has been supported by organisations such as the AA and RAC, who argue that the risks posed by smart motorways are simply too great to be ignored.


Smart motorways are a controversial topic, with supporters arguing that they represent a cost-effective way to manage traffic flow on the UK’s busiest roads. However, concerns about the safety of the system have led to calls for them to be removed altogether. While the government has announced a range of measures designed to improve safety, critics argue that only the reintroduction of the hard shoulder will be sufficient to eliminate the risk of serious accidents on these motorways.

Ultimately, the decision about the future of smart motorways will depend on a range of factors, including the outcome of ongoing research into their safety and the availability of funding to support the development of alternative solutions. For now, however, it seems clear that this controversial mode of transport is set to remain in the headlines for some time to come.

By admin