Smart motorways programme

High­ways Eng­land is tack­ling con­ges­tion on England’s motor­ways by mak­ing them “smart”.

Con­ges­tion on the motor­way and major road net­work in Eng­land costs an esti­mated £2 bil­lion every year, with 25 per cent of this result­ing from inci­dents. So cut­ting con­ges­tion cre­ates eco­nomic ben­e­fits for the region and the coun­try as a whole.

In our busi­ness plan we laid out our plans to make your jour­neys more reli­able. This includes adding more than 4000 miles of extra capac­ity through smart motorways.

Learn how to drive on a smart motorway

View our smart motor­way projects

About smart motorways

Smart motor­ways are a technology-driven approach to the use of our motor­ways. They increase capac­ity and relieve con­ges­tion while main­tain­ing safety. Smart motor­ways help make jour­ney times more reliable.

The hard shoul­der is used for traf­fic, either per­ma­nently or at peak times. This cre­ates an extra lane to pro­vide addi­tional capacity.

Tech­nol­ogy is used to mon­i­tor con­ges­tion lev­els and change the speed limit when needed to smooth the traf­fic flow. This reduces frus­trat­ing stop-start dri­ving and improves your jour­ney reliability.

Smart motor­ways use pio­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy to man­age traf­fic at busy times. We can use tech­nol­ogy to:

  • change the speed limit to smooth traf­fic flow — this reduces frus­trat­ing stop-start dri­ving and improves jour­ney times
  • acti­vate warn­ing signs to alert you to traf­fic jams and haz­ards up ahead
  • close lanes – for exam­ple to allow emer­gency vehi­cles through

Smart motor­ways mean increased road capac­ity faster and at less cost than tra­di­tional road widen­ing schemes. And they are just as safe – often safer. The hard shoul­der is con­verted to become a nor­mal lane – or can be opened to traf­fic when things get congested.

How we know smart motor­ways work

We already have evi­dence of the ben­e­fits that a smart motor­way scheme can bring. The first smart motor­way scheme (known then as a man­aged motor­way) opened to traf­fic on the M42 motor­way in 2006. Analy­sis of data gath­ered since open­ing has found that:

  • jour­ney reli­a­bil­ity improved by 22 per cent
  • per­sonal injury acci­dents reduced by more than half
  • where acci­dents did occur, sever­ity was much lower over­all with zero fatal­i­ties and fewer seri­ously injured


We’re com­mit­ted to safety in every aspect of our work. Our all lane run­ning smart motor­way design is based on robust analy­sis by expe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als using tested methodologies.

This analy­sis demon­strates that our safety objec­tives were likely to be achieved with road user safety no worse than before all lane run­ning is imple­mented. Our ini­tial results on the M25 all lane run­ning sec­tions indi­cate that this is the case.

Emer­gency refuge areas

Emer­gency refuge areas pro­vide an area of rel­a­tive safety fol­low­ing a break­down on a smart motor­way. If you are dri­ving at 60mph you will reach a place you can stop in an emer­gency every 75 sec­onds on average.

There is an emer­gency tele­phone in each refuge area. This con­nects you to our Regional Con­trol Cen­tres and pin­points your location


High­ways Eng­land is com­mit­ted to deliv­er­ing bet­ter envi­ron­men­tal out­comes. Smart motor­ways remain within cur­rent motor­way bound­aries so they have the built-in advan­tage of min­imis­ing the envi­ron­men­tal “foot­print” of the scheme. We carry out thor­ough envi­ron­men­tal assess­ments to iden­tify and assess poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal impacts and rec­om­mend mit­i­ga­tion that can be included in the scheme to min­imise them.


Each scheme has its own project web pages where you can find out what we are doing both before and dur­ing construction.

View our smart motor­way projects

Road­works are needed to cre­ate a smart motor­way. We’ll usu­ally need to put in place safety mea­sures like:

  • nar­row lanes traf­fic management
  • tem­po­rary con­crete safety barriers
  • speed restric­tions
  • tem­po­rary clo­sures of the car­riage­ways at night — clearly signed diver­sions would be put in place

We may also tem­porar­ily alter junc­tion lay­outs to allow for resur­fac­ing and other improvements.


If you would like to know more about smart motor­ways you can con­tact us