Smart motorways, the brainchild of Highways England in a bid to cut congestion, currently cover some 480 miles of the UK’s roads. Areas of Manchester and the North East feature the new technology, as do locations in Surrey and the West Midlands.

There are plans to extend their reach, which is accompanied by changes in the law. Here, Ghaz Iqbal examines what this means for motorists.

What exactly is a Smart Motorway?

The overhead gantry visible to motorists will show whether the hard shoulder is in operation or not, meaning that during peak times there may be four lanes open instead of the usual three.

If a particular lane is closed, this will be indicated by way of a large red ‘X’ on the gantry.

Variable speed limits are also in operation on smart motorways. The limit in operation at any one time is again shown on the gantry (which can be anything from 40mph all the way up to 70mph.)

The smart motorways are fitted with cameras, which serves a dual purpose. Monitoring traffic conditions more closely

enables lanes to be opened and closed readily, as well as helping to decide on the correct speed limit (as detailed above.) Importantly, those drivers breaking the speed limit can be identified quickly and precisely, as well as those driving in lanes which have been marked with the ‘X.’

What bearing does this have on the law?

Drivers should note the following:-

  • The cameras will always be active. Even if the overhead gantry is not displaying a designated speed, you can be penalised for going above 70mph- and it will be easier to catch you doing so;
  • If you drive in a lane marked with an ‘X,’ you will face a fine of £100 and three penalty points. You may even find yourself answering a case of Dangerous Driving, or Driving Without Due Care and Attention- with punishments (and indeed repercussions) far greater than those under a fixed penalty.

It is expected that the changes could be with us by March- so drivers have only a few weeks to familiarise themselves with the implications of using a Smart Motorway. Failing to do so may be a less than smart move.

If you have any queries relating to the content of this article, or wish to discuss a driving case, please contact Ghaz on 0113 200 7143 or via

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