Highways England has recently released a 12 month report on two sections of the M25, junctions 5 to 7 and 23 to 27, to show how these “smart” motorway sections are working. Smart motorways communicate changed speed limits and lane closures via overhead gantry signage in response to changing traffic conditions. 

The good news for road users is that the smart motorways appear to be decreasing journey times, with average journey times reduced by 3% in the clockwise direction and 2% in the anticlockwise direction between junction 5 and 6, and by 5% and 9% respectively between junctions 23 and 27. 

But the results indicate that the smart motorways are having a very limited impact on road safety with a “small but not statistically significant reduction in the collision rate”. Highways England concludes that does not indicate that safety has been worsened by the scheme. 

The report does, however, show that 7% of drivers did not comply with the red “X” on the gantry which means that a lane is closed, with an average non-compliance of four cars per minute. It also showed that Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) were subject to misuse, with over 80% of stops being classed as non-emergency stops. 

William Broadbent of the Penningtons Manches personal injury team commented: “While there are some improvements in traffic flow and little negative impact on road safety, it is worrying that so many drivers are ignoring the red “X” and using ERAs for non-emergency reasons. Without a hard shoulder, these areas are more important to ensure driver safety and the rules need to be adhered to. More detailed studies over longer sections and time periods will be required to show their true impact of the smart motorway scheme.”