Motorways are Getting Smarter and Smarter
New technologies are turning our highways into “smart” motorways. This presents drivers doing haulage work with new challenges that they must be aware of.
Haulage work increasingly relies on cutting-edge technologies to keep the UK’s logistics wheels turning. We usually associate technological innovations with the lorries used to transport goods from A to B. But now modern technology is spreading into the roads we drive on, and, in particular, the UK’s motorway network.
The Birth of the Smart Motorway
The prototype smart motorway was a stretch of the M25 with a variable speed limit that opened in 1995. The first true, smart motorway was part of the M42 which was declared a flexible, controlled motorway with a number of new features: hard shoulders that can be opened or closed as needed, variable speed limits, lane control, overhead gantries and emergency stop areas.
Today’s Smart Motorways
If you’re involved in haulage work, and especially if you do long haulage jobs, then you will most probably be aware of the different types of smart motorway. But just in case, and because it’s important to be aware, we’ll go over the main points here.
All lanes running – this is the standard smart motorway. There is no hard shoulder and traffic is allowed in all lanes (with variable speed limits). There are emergency stop areas every 1.5 miles.
Hard shoulder running – Sections of the motorway have a variable speed limit and a hard shoulder that is routinely for emergency use only. However, if traffic conditions justify it, the hard shoulder may be opened for traffic. Overhead gantries display a red X if the hard shoulder is closed.
Controlled motorway – is a motorway with multiple lanes, variable speed limits and a hard shoulder used only for emergencies.
Command and Control
A series of overhead gantries display signs that indicate speed limits, open and closed lanes and other information relating to the road. This allows the Highway’s Agency, using CCTV and regional control centres, to monitor the road and traffic and take measures to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. For those of us involved in haulage work, this helps avoid delays and traffic jams so we can get to our destination faster and with fewer fuel costs.
The Big X and Variable Speeds
As drivers, we must be especially aware of the red X. This indicates that the lane over which it is displayed is closed. Failure to heed the X is not only potentially dangerous to you and other road users, but could also lead to prosecution, a steep fine and points on your licence.
Variable speed limits are also used to control and direct traffic. Vehicles are monitored using small digital cameras that, even though signposted, are easily missed. Once again, get caught speeding and you face a fine and points.
A solid white line differentiates a regular lane from the hard shoulder.
A BBC survey claims that fines on smart motorways increased 25 times since 2010 and revenues from fines over the same period increased from £150,600 five years ago to £1,100,000 today.
The Freight Transport Association has said that driver education is vital if smart motorways are to succeed and not just collect huge fines. On the one hand, the increased flow of traffic enables haulage work to be carried out efficiently. But on the other, increased risk of fines could be a deterrent from using the motorway.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA’s Head of Road Network Management Policy, said: "… FTA believes that the focus should be on educating drivers on how to use smart motorways safely, what the various signs mean and what they should do in the event of a breakdown.”
The FTA is in the final stages of developing a programme to train commercial drivers on the use of smart motorways through a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) course.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching haulage work†with available drivers. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.