Smart Motorway Technology – Is It Smart Enough?

Prepare to be Outsmarted, by a Motorway

Coming shortly, to a motorway near you, is a smart motorway. Motorway driving can be pretty stressful at the best of times, but the smart motorway, well, time will tell if this exercise is a great solution to congestion problems, or the start of an Orwellian nightmare.

It has been decided by the powers that be, that it is more economical and environmentally favourable to utilise the lane of the motorway already in place, than widen the number of carriageways it carries.

The development of technology has led to computers being capable of managing flows of traffic with little or no human intervention until an incident occurs.

At present there are two main types of smart motorway being employed, the ALR, all lanes running, and controlled motorways.

All lane running has been the most used, since 2013, in which the hard shoulder has become a permanent extra lane, giving no escape room for break downs or incidents.

To compensate, lay-by’s euphemistically called refuge areas have been built at intervals of around one and a half miles. Understandably, this system has drawn criticism public and safety groups.

The response has seen figures produced showing that controlled speed lanes have led to a decrease in fatalities from incidents and accidents.

Others have questioned the accessibility for emergency services in case of incidents, and described ALR as a cheap way of widening the motorway at the expense of highway quality.

Controlled motorways are those of three lanes or more with closely monitored traffic conditions which can automatically adjust speed limits to aid the traffic flow.

They can also open sections of the hard shoulder to create an extra lane if the highway is particularly busy.

Variable speed limits are in use on all smart motorways. These speeds are indicated on overhead signalling across all the lanes and are figures within a red circle, indicating that they are mandatory, that is, that is the new legal speed limit, whatever it may be, and is enforced by speed cameras.

The cameras are often on the same gantries as the speed signage and are not painted yellow. They are camouflage grey and are amongst the most up to date computer controlled cameras in the country. It’s easy to be caught by these cameras and if you are, you need to talk to to learn your best defence.

The idea that you can get to where you’re going to faster, by going more slowly, is an odd concept, but one that actually works.

The limits reduce congestion by lowering the speed limit, which results in fewer stop-start traffic jams. It also increases the actual usage of the road area, as slower traffic travels more closely packed, making more use of available space.