Road Safety News

Highways England launches smart motorway awareness campaign

Thursday 23rd July 2015

Highways England has launched a new campaign to encourage drivers to adhere to the speed limit on England’s smart motorway network.

Smart motorways use technology to keep traffic moving at busy times. The speed limit is displayed in a solid red ring overhead and along the roadside. When traffic builds up, monitoring sensors activate lower speeds in a bid to smooth congestion and help prevent stop/start traffic.

If a vehicle breaks down a lane can be closed, which is indicated by a red x over that lane. The speed limit will be lowered to slow traffic while Highways England and the emergency services manage the incident.

Highways England says that because the speed limits on smart motorways can change, some drivers don’t realise they are still legal speed limits and are getting caught out.

To counter this, Highways England has launched its ‘Better watch your speed’ campaign for summer 2015, to encourage drivers to stick to the speed limits on England’s smart motorway network.

The campaign delivers the following five messages:

• Watch your speed: you must stick to speed limits displayed in a red ring.

• On time journeys: speed limits vary at busy times to keep the traffic flowing and make journey times more reliable.

• Be safe: millions use motorways every day – think about how the decisions you make affect others

• Don’t risk it: speed limits on smart motorways are enforced by police and if you break the speed limit you will be prosecuted

• Respect our road workers: do your bit to save lives – drive carefully, stick to the stated speed limit and keep road workers safe.

Click here to view and download campaign materials.


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Although I get the theory of these systems, in practice and from experience they just don't work as intended and bunch traffic closer and closer together encourage undertaking and don't ease traffic flow, increase journey times, sometimes for no reason. They also take drivers eyes off the road which is a big danger in my eyes. If you do go over the limit on these roads you are dicing with your licence and livelihood. I am so glad for cruise control and have got used to ignoring tailgating and lorries less than a foot away for prolonged periods of driving. I just live in hope that I don't get side swiped by one as even at 40 or 50 a lorry will crush you like a tin can in a blink of an eye.
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

Agree (18) | Disagree (4)

I have also noticed that the illuminated signs are often at odds with the traffic conditions, especially around the M5/M4 junction. I queried it with my local HA office in Avonmouth and the reply was that signs can be set by the National Control Centre in Birmingham, who do not advise the local centre. They also claim that they do not have visibility of the changes made by Birmingham! Hard to believe somehow in this modern digital age. Their favourite trick on the M4 westbound prior to the M32 junction is to advise of an "incident" and request motorists slow down. On passing the M32 turn off, the last before the M5 junction, they then advise of lane closures, 3, then 2 and finally.... Motorway closed! I have sat for 3 hours on a number of occasions, when I could have made a detour to my home address.
Peter Cooke - North Somerset

Agree (10) | Disagree (1)

I agree with comments by several other readers that often speed restrictions are in place with no apparent reason. I live very close to the M1/M25 junction and often see limits in light traffic which is flowing smoothly. One big bane for me is that when, near J21 of the M25, there is a queue to turn left onto the M1 and a speed limit on the M1 turn off lane the speed limit - as low as 40 sometimes - is extended across the other four lanes of the M25, and switched off as soon as the junction is passed. This slows down M25 traffic for no apparent reason.
Robert Bolt, St Albans

Agree (18) | Disagree (2)

I drive on these "Smart" Motorways every working day. Dave is absolutely correct in his first post. They are not accurate at all and also promote very bad lane discipline which I have noticed is spreading. The limits are just applied on a time table so even with light traffic the limits automatically come on. With the huge cost of these things and huge disruption (and loss of life) during the 2 years of roadworks I personally think that just widening these sections of motorway is the only answer as the M62 is now a carpark every morning and evening. The smart motorway worked for about 6 months and is huge waste of money that is a stopgap at best and a money making exercise at worst. The M1 near Leeds is now completely 50mph making the A1 very busy as it is worth going 50 miles out of your way just to avoid large stretches of 50mph roadworks with nobody working on them. From experience punitive enforcement is a: not cost effective and b: doesn't work in practice.
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

Agree (21) | Disagree (2)

As this is a campaign for speed management on "smart motorways" are Highways England saying by default that driving over the signed limit on non smart motorways is OK? Hopefully no. Maybe they need to run the campaign for all motorways with better explanations about flow rates.
Peter Westminster

Agree (6) | Disagree (7)

The other thing to remember is that freight companies and their drivers need more notice than a car driver to enable them to use suitable lorry routes to avoid congestion and delays.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (7) | Disagree (4)

I agree, Nick, that hard-shoulder running is worth trying, I was questioning the authorities ability to operate signage accurately and concern over the use of speed cameras without evidence of benefit. My point was that I have seen time and again motorway signs claiming obstructions or congestion ahead, sometimes with lowered speed limits, only to find whatever had happened had long gone. Even when signage is correct, the event can be miles away. I could have put the car in neutral and would still have stopped beforehand. Others often tell of similar experiences. Before threatening prosecutions, perhaps Highways England need to gain motorists trust first?
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (23) | Disagree (7)

Considering the intellectual grasp of the average driver don't we think there could be a better way of saying " On time journeys: speed limits vary at busy times to keep the traffic flowing and make journey times more reliable."

How about "If you try going faster you'll end up going slower."

We want them to understand why there is a limit in place because if they understand why they'll be more than likely to stick to the limit.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (17) | Disagree (4)

Living in North Yorkshire but with family in Sussex, I have experienced what Dave describes many times - those inexplicable long stretches warning of congestion that never materialises. I have asked Highways England about this phenomenon and it usually because by warning and slowing traffic, the queue at whatever the hold-up is further ahead doesn't get as long and is cleared more quickly, which is better and more efficient for us all.

But these usually happen on conventional motorway not managed motorways. Managed or Smart motorways have much more frequent signs and are more closely managed. Certainly from my experience of many miles up and down the M1, for example, there often long stretches of 50 or 60 mph with no visible evidence of an incident but they do work better overall: I would much rather make continuing steady progress than stop start stop.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (19) | Disagree (5)

If only that were true - you obviously haven't driven on the M6 round Birmingham during the day, or round the M25, or many other motorways at peak times! If the situation were as you describe we wouldn't need smart motorways - but it's not.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (12) | Disagree (17)

Have a look at the governments own video on so-called "Smart" motorways. The video very accurately displays what many citizens experience: Warnings of congestion and lowered speed limits, yet mile after mile of light traffic with no obstructions, no road workers, no congestion - nothing.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (26) | Disagree (7)