Speed Limits on Smart Motorways

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Beware of Speeding on Smart Motorways

Word is that, from midnight on the 8th January 2019, all of the Active Traffic Management (ATM) system cameras that monitor speeding on the M1 and M25 motorways will become live.

Not a problem, you might think, and if you keep to the speed limits it probably won’t be. However, if you tend to exceed the limit a bit – or a lot – beware and read on!

One thing to remember is that the cameras are on all the time – 24/7 –  not just when a lower speed than the national limit is showing on the gantry. They don’t necessarily flash either. The ATM incorporates an automatic ticket generating system. This will log the registration number of your speeding vehicle and issue you with a ticket.

You’ll then be facing a hefty fine of up to £2,500 (based on your weekly income) and up to 6 points on your licence.  The points added used to be just three for speeding up to 90 MPH. However, it seems that huge efforts are being made to control speeding on our over-busy motorways.

Go even faster, over 90, and you’ll risk being disqualified from driving on top of the fine.

Yes –speeding is getting that serious!

A bit of background

So-called smart motorways with ATM systems have been with us since the pilot scheme started on the West Midlands M42 in 2006. The system is designed to maintain steady traffic flow, reducing the number of jams due to congestion. The systems can also open the hard shoulder to increase capacity at really busy times.

The management system works by monitoring sensors in the road, plus using gantry cameras. The data returned from the sensors to the managing computers can automatically trigger lower speed limits, or limits can be changed manually by real people in the event of accidents or other incidents.

Here’s a good video from the RAC, explaining how a smart motorway works and how to use it:

Not all motorways with gantry traffic control are technically smart motorways, but are more properly known as controlled motorways as they don’t have the hard shoulder control features.

Do ATMs work?

Actually, ATM systems can work so well with traffic management that sections of the road can be virtually empty – but still restricted to a low speed. In this case, a real person has to step in and make an adjustment, so the computerised way can be a little lacking at times.

The idea of opening up hard shoulders to traffic at certain times appears to be a good idea on the face of it, but some people think this is a retrograde step and a sticking-plaster way of coping with excess traffic. It does mean there’s nowhere for emergency vehicles to pass to access incidents or for anyone with a vehicle problem to safely go.

However, the ATM system is incredibly good at raising money from people who take liberties with the speed limits. In a Times report from the middle of 2018, some eyebrow-raising figures gleaned from Highways England (the government company which operates, maintains and improves our motorways and major A-roads – formerly the Highways Agency) were published.

The report showed that 72,348 people had been fined on smart motorways in the previous year. That figure almost doubled the numbers of drivers fined in 2016 and showed a tenfold increase on the preceding five years. Based on even a middle-of-the-road (pun intended!) fine of £1,250, that’s over £90 million in revenue. Law enforcement agencies have been instructed to increase the number of maximum-level fines they hand out, so the total figure is likely to be much higher.

The bottom line?

Basically, it’s an easy fix – don’t speed.

If you do and you’re on either the M1 or the M25 from the January 8th 2019, be prepared for an unwelcome letter to drop through your letterbox in the following few days!

January 8th, 2019|Categories: Driving|Tags: |


  1. Nancy October 11, 2019 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Hi .. i’ve got a speeding fine for the M5 junc 17 where the gantry camera has flashed to 40 when m already doing 70.. there appears to be no way of losing 30 miles as hour with a click of your fingers !!.. so you get fined instead … any advice ? thanks

    • Ali October 22, 2019 at 2:47 pm

      Good afternoon Nancy … it is a really interesting point that you raise and not knowing the answer for sure we (CLM) decided to investigate. I’ve spoken with Highways England to get some insight about how this works; they have advised that typically the cameras go down in increments from one gantry to the next. However, in cases of a real emergency – such as a car going the wrong way on the carriageway – it is sometimes necessary for it to drop from 70 to 40mph in one jump.

      Therefore, if a driver feels that they have got a speeding ticket which was unavoidable owing to a sudden change in speed limits, they should get in touch with Highways England with the information regarding the fine and they will investigate. They keep accurate records of the time that the cameras changed and when the cameras flashed so can make a judgement about reaction times – Email info@highwaysengland.co.uk or Telephone 0300 123 5000. I hope this helps!

    • Mason March 16, 2020 at 6:08 pm

      Do these smart motorway cameras catch your from the other side of the road ?

    • Catherine Dawson March 27, 2020 at 6:28 pm

      There are a number of different types of speed camera in use now – some of which are able to detect speeding in both directions. I’m not sure if these are used on smart motorways but the safest thing all round is to stay within the speed limit.

  2. Becky June 30, 2019 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Anyone able to advise?

    I came home from cornwall today to norfolk and went along all the major motor ways including m25 ect. I sat and did between 75-82mph the whole way home and reckon I went through every single camera at those speeds.
    I’m now worried after I’ve red people are getting fined ect. I no I went through atleast 12 and worryed I’m going to lose my licence!
    I did see these yellow box things on the motor wau but thought they were just general cameras that watch over but now I’ve red they are new smart cameras which clock you like a normal speed camera?


  3. Michael June 4, 2019 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    I got flashed on the M1 J33 coming from the M18 Sheffield.,I was the only car in sight. My speed was 71MPH according to my Sat Nav. I am now waiting to see if I get the dreaded letter through the post. If they are going to fine you at 71 MPH it is going to cause people to drive way under the 70 MPH speed limit in turn causing people to over take and drive dangerously. I will let you guys know in the next few weeks what happens.

    • Craig June 24, 2019 at 9:38 pm

      Let me know just got me that camera. I was doing 45 and sign showed 40 so it flashed me.

  4. christina May 31, 2019 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    i received a ticket on the M25 for doing 72 when the restriction was 60. There was no flash, the camera’s don’t need to flash.

  5. Ben March 13, 2019 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    I received a ticket for alegedly doing 64mph when the gantry supposedly showed a reduced limit of 50mph. This was on m25 clockwise between junction 19/20. There was no accident on this day and I set my cruise control limiter to not exceed 70mph. I don’t recall seeing 50mph flashing & I suspect many others have been stung by this cash making operation. What can I do. There is no evidence?!

    • Edwina April 8, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Hi, just wondering what the outcome of this was? Did you challenge it? What was the fine and how many points did you get? Thanks

    • Keri April 17, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      What was the outcome of your speeding situation

  6. Mark February 12, 2019 at 1:15 am - Reply

    So in the term variable what and when is speed correct speeds for these motorways? It seems that if I want to come off a junction and the hgv’s are hogging the first and second lanes I have no oot9 but to slow to 30 mph behind them or increase speed in third lane to get past and come off.
    Very confusing these smart cash cow motorways.

  7. Phil Hobbs January 12, 2019 at 9:54 am - Reply

    All these conflicting comments, you really don’t
    Know what to believe. What really frustrates me
    is. Your driving along keeping to the rules of
    motorway driving, then you’re either flashed because your going too slow (ie 70 mph), get carved up by a looney jumped in the space you’ve left in front of you. You have to increase your speed momentarily to avoid a situation that sets off a camera. Basically it’s bloody hell out there.

    • Mark February 12, 2019 at 1:09 am

      I completely agree

  8. CHRISTOPHER FLOYD January 10, 2019 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    On most motorways the only time you can go fast is when there is little traffic, so no problem. If due to congestion the cars in front are doing say 50, thats as fast as you can go. It’s only when traffic is light that you can put your foot down. Most cars and motorbikes are capable of much higher speed than 70. And designed to do so. Sticking a number on a signe will not stop some fool getting it wrong, eg. doing 70 in fog. Some states in the USA now have higher than 70 mph speed limets and report no increas in accident rates. In-car distractions and poor vehicle maintainence are the main culprits. But where’s the easy pay off in those?

  9. Osman January 10, 2019 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    70mph as a national speed limit is too slow in italy you can do 90mph legally but they do 100mph anyways lol

    • Christopher Floyd January 10, 2019 at 2:46 pm

      Yes, no point in making some of the best cars and bikes if your customers can’t go faster than a fiat 500

  10. Mick January 9, 2019 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    Darren yes they do still flash
    Well from j40 down to j21 M1 they do anyway

  11. Andy P January 9, 2019 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    sounds like a load of bollocks to me. I was doing an average speed of 85mph from junctions 12 to 9 of the M25. not a single flash for me or anyone else for that matter. learn to distinguish fake news from real news next time

    • Darren January 9, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      I wouldn’t be so fast to disparage this article. This was in the news last year that these changes would come into effect this year. Aside from that, Smart Cameras don’t flash. They are equipped with Smart software and light enhancing capabilities, eliminating the need for old flash lighting (the major clue is in the word “Smart”). You’ll probably know in 2-3 weeks whether or not you escaped a letter awarding your fine & points from the Central Ticketing Office.

    • Sam January 10, 2019 at 9:21 am

      Do let us know if you get a ticket Andy.

      It used to be the case that the cameras were only active when the gantrys were active with speed restrictions.

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