Who invented smart motorways?

SMART motorways have continued to split opinion since they were first formally introduced in 2014.

But who invented the concept and when were they first trialled? Here’s all you need to know.

There are now 236 miles of smart motorways in England


There are now 236 miles of smart motorways in England

Who invented smart motorways and why were they introduced?

Smart Motorways were first introduced by Highways England – a government-owned company.

According to the RAC, their objective was “to manage traffic in a way that minimised environmental impact, cost and time to construct by avoiding the need to build additional lanes.”

A series of Governments considered the concept desirable and began trials along 14 miles of the M25 in 1995.

Following initial success, it was soon expanded to cover hundreds more miles of motorway across the country from the 2000s onwards.

Smart motorway’s now fall into three main categroies:

  • All lane running (ARL)
  • Controlled
  • Dynamic hard shoulder.

ARL means there are sections of motorway that do not have a hard shoulder, instead motorists must rely on Emergency Refuge Areas.

Smart motorways typically use technology to manage the flow of traffic during busy times – for instance, by varying the speed limit.

Controlled sections of motorway use technology to manage the flow of traffic during busy times.

Operators can vary the speed limit – with lit signs on overhead gantries – with the aim of reducing the frustrating stop-start driving conditions that often occur on normal roads.

Meanwhile, dynamic hard shoulder motorways can also increase capacity of the road by opening up the hard shoulder at busy times.

Where was the first smart motorway?

The first smart motorway scheme was used on the M42 in 2006 as official trials began on their safety and effectiveness.

Government figures were reportedly so impressed that then Transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, announced that £150 million would be spent on extending the plans.

At the time, Ms Kelly said: “People get from their front door to their place of work in a much more reliable time frame.

“The safety fears that some people have haven’t materialised at all and, not only that, it’s good for the economy and the environment too.”

By 2010 a £2 billion contract was announced to bring the “really impressive” techniques to the M1, M4, M5, M6, M60 and M62.

And by 2013 the so called smart motorways were being coined by the Highways Agency to promote the technology to road users.

Former Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly described the motorways as 'really impressive' after they were trialled in 2006


Former Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly described the motorways as ‘really impressive’ after they were trialled in 2006

Are smart motorways dangerous?

As of January 2022, the Government has continued to describe smart motorways as “among the safest roads in the UK” even as it decides to halt rollout plans due to safety concerns.

There have been at least 38 deaths on smart motorways since their introduction in the UK, although the figure is likely to be higher.

In fact, the fatality rate on so-called smart motorways is up to a third higher than that of conventional highways with hard shoulders, officials figures reveal.

And last year, the Sun revealed that the motorways are considered so dangerous the AA won’t let breakdown crews stop on them.

Near-misses on one stretch of the reconfigured M25 outside London rose 20-fold to 1,485 in the five years since the hard shoulder was taken away.

Listen to man’s 999 call moments before him and his family were hit by a lorry at 50mph on a smart motorway without hard shoulder


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