Smart Motorways – An Exploration of Purpose, Cost and Reward – Part 1


With the government announcing plans to allow learners onto our motorways never before has learning about the tarmac arteries flowing through our country been more relevant. With 2,173 miles of motorways keeping our country alive, correct usage is vital.

The inspiration behind this series of blogs comes from my own personal experience, I commute from Scunthorpe to Manchester several times a week and spend plenty more time going up and down the country, experiencing the Smart Motorways. It did dawn on me though, at my relatively young age of 25, I’ve never been taught the do’s and do not’s of using the new system. If I’ve not been formally taught, then that means potentially everyone my senior has also not been taught, which means there’s potentially a huge chunk of the driving population that don’t have a clue what’s going on.

I had a scary situation on the M6 Northbound near Birmingham, I broke down on lane one and had traffic swerving around my car, I was left thinking, this doesn’t seem so “Smart.” So, what we’re going to do is explore the purpose of Smart Motorways, i.e. what’s caused the massive investment to take place, and is it really necessary. We’ll take a look at what goes into making a Motorway “Smart.” We’re going to look at the safety protocols, and what to do, if like me, you break down on one. Then we’re going to attempt a cost/benefit analysis. Hopefully from all this we can be filled with eternal optimism for the future, and less frustration at the present with the 50mph stretches.


Background & Facts on Motorways

A motorway is defined as a: “Limited-access dual carriageway road, not crossed on the same level by other traffic lanes, for the exclusive use of certain classes of motor vehicle.”

The Motorway zones run clockwise from the M1

Motorway map













By Nilfanion and Dr Greg. © OpenStreetMap contributors. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2010., CC BY-SA 4.0,


The first motorway was opened in 1958, this was the M6 Preston Bypass. By 1972, 1000 miles of motorway had been built.

The longest motorway in the UK is the M6, stretching 236 miles.

The M25 is the longest two-digit motorway, stretching 117 miles.

My beloved M180 is the longest three-digit motorway stretching 25 miles.

When the M1 was opened in 1959, there was no speed limit, central reservations, lighting or crash barriers.

The widest section of road with multiple carriageways is on the M61, reaching 2.5 miles over 18 lanes.

Source: Sabre Roads


Fatality Facts

25,160 people were killed or seriously injured in the year ending September 2016, a rise of 6% on the previous year.

For the same period, motorway traffic levels were up 1.4%.

The casualty rate per mile decreased by 5%.

Motorway fatalities was up 8% to 270 in the third quarter of 2016, compared with the same period the year before.

Source: Department for Transport


Next Up

The next blog post is going to look at Smart Motorways, and how they came to be a part of everyday life for millions of commuters. We will delve into the research that surmised their necessity for a sustainable and safe future.  We will look at the intended goals and objectives of Smart Motorways and see if the initial data we have matches up to justify the incredible investment put into the projects.

Until next time.


Written by: Danny Atkin, Transport Director

Posted in Blog on .