Are smart motorways just plain dumb?

Are smart motorways just plain dumb?

The M1, M3 and M60 all have something in common. Apart from being major trunk roads, all are in the process of being transformed into Smart Motorways in a bid to smooth out traffic flow. Interactive overhead gantries home LED speed signs, some of which conceal small grey speed cameras. The motorway then becomes ‘smart’ in that speeds and the use of the hard shoulder can be remotely changed depending on traffic conditions, weather and accidents.

Stretches of the M25, M42 and M6 have already been ‘upgraded’ to Smart motorways, however my personal experience is far from an upgrade or smart. On the M25, when speed limits are adjusted, you can often find yourself travelling at 40 mph when there is nothing else on the road. On the flipside, a 30 mph limit flashes away above the stationary car you’ve been sat in for the last half an hour.

It would seem proactive monitoring and adjustment of the speed limits are dependent on the control room staff, and whether they are having lunch or tied up in a meeting about traffic management.

Generally, I would say driver confidence in a ‘smart’ approach is currently quite low, particularly among the several hundred drivers who have received fines dealt out by new cameras on a stretch of the M25 near Kent recently.

I would also presume they will be equally unimpressed to learn that the new cameras are being set at 70mph when the signs are not being used. This means if you creep even slightly over the speed limit, you automatically receive three points and a £100 fine. Nearly two thirds of fines on this motorway stretch were for breaking the 70mph limit.

That compares with generally being left alone by motorway coppers until you top 85mph with official guidance from Association of Police Officers (ACPO) that drivers should not be given a ticket unless they are exceeding 79mph.

I have never understood a law that states you can only travel at 70mph on motorways yet can be officially broken using advice from the country’s official police body. Either it’s a law or it’s not. And why have it if 95% of drivers admit to ignoring it?

The opportunity was missed by the Government a couple of years ago to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph which would have automatically helped speed up traffic flow. It would have and made transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, in my eyes at least, a national hero.

The jury is already out whether smart motorways will work. I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of the poor motorists who sit on the M3 each morning waiting for the contractors to install the cameras over 18 month period. I swear it was just a few weeks since the motorway was last restored from the last round of ‘upgrades’.