Smart Motorways

Smart Motorways

As a learner driver you need to know about Smart Motorways in order to answer questions in your theory test. 

Once you’ve passed your driving test you are able to drive up independently, it’s really important to understand what a Smart Motorway is and how you’re expected to drive on one.

In this blog I am to answer any question you might have about driving and staying safe on Smart Motorways.

What is a Smart Motorway? 

A smart motorway is a section of the motorway that uses traffic management methods to reduce congestion at particularly busy times of the day.

These traffic management methods include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

The Hard Shoulder

The Hard Shoulder on a motorway is always clearly identified with the solid white unbroken line.

This lane is normally used in emergencies for vehicles that are broken down. 

On a Smart Motorway the hard shoulder can be opened up temporarily for traffic to drive on. 

If the hard shoulder is open up for use, you’ll see a speed limit displayed above it.

If there is nothing displayed above the hard shoulder, or red X is displayed, then you must not drive on the hard shoulder, you must only use it in an emergency.

Variable Speed Limits 

The speed limit on the motorway for cars is normally 70 mph. On a smart motorway the speed limit on certain sections may be reduced in order to help keep a steady flow of traffic and reduce ‘stop-start’ traffic jams.

Variable speed limits are set at busy times of the day, the speed limit displayed inside a red circle is legally enforceable. If you go over the speed limit, you’re breaking the law and could receive a fine.

You will be clear about when the reduced speed limit no longer applies, because a national speed limit sign will be displayed.

If no speed limits are displayed, then the national speed limit applies.

When speed limits are displayed, they remain in place until you’re notified that they’ve ended, or a different speed limit is displayed .

Red X

A red X sign above a lane indicates that the lane is closed to traffic. The red X is displayed on gantry signs above lanes, which are signs placed high so they can be easily seen by motorists.

If there is a red X above your lane then you must move to another lane as soon as it is safe.


Breaking Down on a Smart Motorway 

Breaking down on any road can be traumatic but breaking down a fast moving road like a motorway can be dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you must do. 

The best thing you can do prior to setting off is to check your car and therefore aim to avoid breaking down at all.

Check oil, water, tyres and fuel level to avoid having any problems

Breaking down on a Smart Motorway, when the hard shoulder is being used as a running lane, means that there is nowhere for you to go. 

You must try to exit at the next junction or services or get to an Emergency Refuge area.

If this isn’t possible, try to move into the left-hand lane and put your hazard warning lights on. Move your vehicle as close as possible to the left-hand verge.

If you feel you can get out of the car safely you should exit using the left-hand door. Get yourself and passengers behind the safety barrier. Keep well clear of traffic that is still moving. Face the oncoming traffic so you can see what’s approaching and you don’t get any surprises.

Once your car has stopped you should put your hazard warning lights on and call 999 immediately.

If your car stops unexpectedly and you cannot get to the left-hand lane:

  • keep your seat belt on
  • put your hazard warning lights on
  • call 999 immediately

The lane you are in will be closed as soon as possible to keep you, your passengers, and other road users safe. You MUST stay inside the vehicle.

I hope the information in this blog has been useful to you. You may never need it – but it’s good to know!


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