January 8, 2019

Speed Limits on Smart Motorways

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!