A study carried out by Inrix, a data collection and analysis company, revealed that roads in United Kingdom are the most congested in Europe, being twice as congested as the roads in Germany. The government is taking radical measures to address this scourge, one of which is smart motorways.
Heavy traffic tends to be during the rush hours and smart motorways is using what is referred to as Active Traffic Management (ATM). This turns the hard shoulder into a running lane and then communicates this to the motorists via the overhead gantries,
With this development, the government has established emergency refuge areas which are 1.6 miles apart on every smart motorway. This has however led to unrest for some drivers who are not aware of what an emergency refuge area is and would not know how to react if they encountered an incident on a smart motorway. There have also been concerns as to the safety of smart motorways with the public awareness as to when and how to use the hard shoulder not being sufficient.
Smart Motorways: The Background
Since the introduction of smart motorways on the M42 in the West Midlands in 2006, the number of smart motorways has increased steadily, with the government expected to keep investing in this method of traffic control.
The biggest challenge with smart motorways has been instilling discipline in the drivers. What makes this even more challenging is the genuine lack of information on how to use them. The government has tried to make the emergency refuge areas clearly visible by signposting them.
This system heavily relies on the use of traffic cameras to monitor the traffic. When a vehicle breaks down, the overhead gantries which are plenty on smart motorways, warn other motorists that there is an obstruction. This is done by reducing the speed limits as well as displaying lane closure signs. The lane closure sign, which is a big X sign, informs the driver that they should not use that particular lane and doing so could lead to prosecution. The hard shoulder should not be used if the sign over it is blank except in cases of emergencies.
Smart motorways require constant monitoring to ensure smooth flow of traffic. Where a vehicle breaks down or is stranded, assistance is immediately offered to move the vehicle to an emergency refuge area and steps taken to immediately alert other drivers of the same.
Ideally, the gantry signs should work perfectly although sometimes they do not. A driver is expected to slow down when asked to. This ensures that the traffic does not congest in one area when many motorists are forced to slow down abruptly.
More Motorways Planned
Learning how to use smart motorways will not be optional in the future. This is because the government is expected to increase the number of smart motorways steadily. While it may be possible to avoid them now by looking for diversions as the experience may be intimidating for new drivers, in the future this may not be possible. Another reason for the widespread ignorance may be as a result of where one resides, with those living in small towns likely not to have used smart highways. The government will continue upgrading more roads into smart status and even those who have not used them will be left without an option. This is why it’s imperative to get acquainted early.
Some steps that can ensure safety of a road user as well as other motorists include always leaving the vehicle from the passenger side and staying behind the barrier at all times. One should also use the emergency roadside telephone to contact a Highway England representative and request for assistance.
Smart Motorway Safety Tips
To ensure safety of self and other road users as well, there are some steps that one must take whenever they encounter a problem on the road. These include using emergency refuge areas which are clearly demarcated. Contacting Highways England is also critical. They send a traffic officer to offer you assistance and make use of motorway signs to reduce the speed limit and facilitate a smooth and safe rejoin to the highway.
Smart motorways are here to stay and the better acquainted you are to them, the better the experience on the road will be both now and in the future.