Smart Motorways – How Will They Affect Our Roads?

Smart motorways, sometimes referred to as active traffic management or managed motorways, were introduced to the UK in 2006. Since then, a number of smart motorways have been developed across the country.

They were initially implemented to prevent traffic congestion and reduce journey times for commuters, particularly during peak times, by adjusting the speed limit as necessary and allowing drivers to use the hard shoulder.

How do smart motorways work?

There are two types of smart motorway systems, MM1 and MM2 (ALR):

MM1: Drivers are only able to use the hard shoulder when it is open during congested times.

MM2 (ALR): Introduced by the Highways Agency in 2012, the MM2 (ALR) removes the hard shoulder permanently and instead becomes a full time running lane.

Both systems contain the following elements:

  • Speed limits are varied to improve traffic flow
  • Controlled lanes
  • Overhead gantries to provide drivers with relevant information
  • Emergency refuge areas

Growing public interest

The increasing number of smart motorways being developed across the country is causing concern amongst emergency services, roadside recovery companies, Labour MPs and solicitors alike.

Those who have aired their reservations concerning commuter safety on smart motorways have introduced the argument as to whether these adapted road systems are a good investment in the UK’s future.

Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of smart motorways, and discover more about how their implementation will affect roads in the UK.

The benefits they can bring

The aim of the smart motorways scheme is to improve the commuter experience. According to studies of the MM1 system, smart motorways present the following advantages:

  • The Highways Agency discovered that journey reliability was improved by 22% at 50MPH and 27% at 60MPH, compared to that at 70MPH
  • Congestion has been reduced
  • Journey time has improved
  • Drivers tend to be more comfortable when driving on these roads
  • Lane discipline has improved
  • Traffic capacity has increased

The risks associated with smart motorways

In comparison, the constant use of the hard shoulder when using the MM2 (ALR) system has presented a number of disadvantages:

  • Smart motorways increase the amount that a driver stops in live lanes; which is the third greatest cause of road traffic accidents.
  • Allowing drivers to permanently use the hard shoulder could result in emergency vehicles struggling to make their way through traffic in urgent cases.
  • Driving could become more erratic when trying to allow room for emergency vehicles. Moving into the next lane unexpectedly could result in a collision.
  • Increased traffic capacity means that drivers are driving closer together, therefore increasing the risk of collision.


The risks associated with the updated MM2 (ALR) system have caused discomfort amongst members of the emergency services, breakdown recovery companies and labour MPs.

Stuart Walne, Head of Roads Policing for South Yorkshire, has revealed his concerns regarding the system, stating that there are “fundamental operational difficulties” that “we don’t have the answers to at the moment”, which could prove to be hazardous.

The AA believes that the closure of the hard shoulder and reduced emergency refuges throughout the MM2 (ALR) system will “make the motorway hugely vulnerable when accidents and breakdowns occur.” In a survey carried out by the road accident company, 63% of its members believed that the system would make them feel anxious about driving on MM2 (ALR) motorways.

Labour MP Mary Creagh has also expressed her concern that using the hard shoulder will increase the risk of accidents on motorways.

How will smart motorways affect road traffic accidents and its claims?

The arguments surrounding the smart motorways system and the dangers it involves has led the road traffic accident specialist, Sheldon Davidson, to consider what effect the scheme could have on the number of road collisions and claims made:

“There are clearly pros and cons to the (implementation) concept of Smart Motorways. Whilst I would support any measures that reduce congestion at peak times this has to be weighed against safety. The use of hard shoulders in my view presents a real hazard and constant varying of speed may lead to more incidents of collisions due to sudden breaking.”

Sheldon Davidson
Sheldon Davidson Solicitors are based in Manchester, UK and specialise in road traffic accidents, personal injury and industrial disease claims.
Sheldon Davidson

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