This weekend Downing Street confirmed that plans for new smart motorways will no longer proceed after safety concerns had led to a temporary pause on those currently being constructed.

We’ve previously written about the dangers that smart motorways present to UK drivers and in the few years since they were first introduced there has been significant opposition to them due to safety concerns. In fact, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously vowed to ban them as part of his Tory leadership campaign last summer and this announcement comes as part of that commitment.

There were 14 smart motorways that were under construction or had work planned for them which had already been paused but the announcement confirmed that these will no longer go ahead.

The roads that were paused are:

  • The M3 Junction 9 to 14
  • The M40/M42 interchange
  • The M62 Junction 20 to 25
  • The M25 Junction 10 to 13
  • The M1 Junction 10 to 13 (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M4/M5 interchange (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M6 Junction 4 to 5 (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M6 Junction 5 to 8 (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M6 Junction 8 to 10a (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M42 Junction 3a to 7 (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)
  • The M62 Junction 25 to 30 (changing the dynamic hard should to all lane running)

Planned road changes which will not happen are:

  • The M1 North Leicestershire
  • M1 Junction 35A to 39 (Sheffield to Wakefield)
  • The M6 Junction 19 to 21A (Knutsford to Croft)

What Are Smart Motorways?

The concept of smart motorways was originally introduced to UK roads in 2014 as a way to help ease congestion and improve vehicle flows.

A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that has additional features including variable speed limits, dynamic hard shoulders and all-lane running schemes.

The use of variable speed limits has been added to sections of motorways without modifying any of the lanes and this will be one of the most common features you see on modern motorways. You will be advised of any upcoming variable speed limits when driving, and then any changes to the previous speed limit (increases and decreases) will be shown across all active lanes of traffic until you leave the variable speed limit zone.

Other stretches of road have had more significant changes to their layout, with the implementation of a dynamic hard shoulder where the hard shoulder lane can be used as an additional lane for traffic at high congestion points. In general, the hard shoulder lane should remain an emergency refuge area and so will still be separated from the other lanes by a solid white line. The overhead sign will indicate whether it is operational as a hard shoulder (a red X) or as a lane for traffic.

In some areas, the hard shoulder has been removed completely to provide four lanes for traffic to use, also known as an all-lane running scheme. Though this is designed to have all lanes active overhead signage may indicate a lane being out of use (by a red X) in the event of an accident or emergency that has left a vehicle(s) stationary. It is important to be aware of this as you should move out of any lane with an overhead X as soon as it is possible to safely do so.

Cameras are a key component of all smart motorways as they help monitor the roads and detect congestion, vehicles in distress and other circumstances that may require a change to the speed limit or lane closures / opening.

Why Are Smart Motorways Unsafe?

Even before work began on creating smart motorways there were safety concerns due to the loss of hard shoulders and whether the technology used to monitor them was able to pick up vehicles in distress, and when it did whether the response was prompt enough.

Over the past few years, there have been several accidents that occurred due to a lane of traffic remaining open when it should have been closed due to a breakdown, and further collisions into accident scenes where the road has remained open. Inquiries into these and smart motorways in general have branded them as dangerous and it was during his leadership campaign that Rishi Sunak highlighted them as an area of concern for him.

What Will Happen to Existing Smart Motorways?

So far, there has been no announcement on what will happen to current smart motorways. But Labour has called for the government to reinstate hard shoulders on roads that have had them converted to running lanes.

This is echoed by the RAC with their road safety spokesman Simon Williams telling Sky News: “Our research shows all lane-running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we’re pleased the government has finally arrived at the same conclusion. It’s now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.”

H3 Where Are the Existing Smart Motorways?

Current Smart Motorway sections include variable speed limits, dynamic hard shoulders and all-lane running systems. We’ve listed the current sections of smart motorways below, and broken these down by the type of road they are.

Variable Speed Limits:

  • The M42 Junctions 3a to the M40 Junction 16  
  • The M1 Junction 6a to 10
  • The M20 Junction 4 to 7
  • The M25 Junction 2 to 3
  • The M25 Junction 7 to 8
  • The M25 Junction 10 to 16  
  • The M25 Junction 27 to 30
  • The M26 Junction 16 to 23
  • The M1 Junctions 25 to 28  
  • The M60 Junction 8 to 18

Dynamic Hard Shoulders:

  • The M6 Junction 4 to 10a
  • The M42 Junction 7 to 9
  • The M1 Junction 10 to 13
  • The M62 Junction 25 to 30
  • The M4 Junction 19 to 20
  • The M5 Junction 15 to 17

All-Lane Running:

  • The M6 Junction 10a to 13
  • The M3 Junction 2 to 4a
  • The M25 Junction 5 to 7
  • The M25 Junction 23 to 27
  • The M1 Junction 28 to 31
  • The M1 Junction 32 to 35a
  • The M62 Junction 18 to 20


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