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M6 ‘smart motorway’ undergoing final testing in Birmingham

Over the weekend  a section of the M6 in Birmingham was tested with a new ‘smart motorway’ scheme aimed at getting traffic moving. It’s the same system that has been used on the M62 between junctions 25 and 30 and uses electronic gantry signs to display variable speed limits and open up the hard shoulder as needed during peak traffic.

All CCTV camera positions have been checked to ensure that the Regional Control Centre has the required visibility of the whole stretch. The RCC uses the cameras to assess the traffic situations and set the appropriate speed and lane restrictions. Assuming no changes are required, the system will be operational sometime in March.

The aim is to have the whole of the M6 between junctions 5 and 8 controlled by this system by Easter. Of course, that includes one of the most intimidating junctions in Britain – Spaghetti Junction, which you can see here. The system is touted to give one-third more capacity which should reduce congestion and traffic pollution, and make journey times more predictable.

How to use smart motorways

If you haven’t used the M62 then what you’ll see is a gantry over the motorway with a speed limit indicator for each lane, and in the hard shoulder there is a sign that indicates when you can use it. It is a traffic offence to use the hard shoulder if the signs do not permit you to use it. On some stretches of motorway there is no hard shoulder, just refuges for emergencies. In this case you’ll see a broken white line rather than the solid white line in the photo below. If the hard shoulder is in use as a lane you must not stop in it.


The gantry signs can be used to warn of accidents or congestion. A red X is used to indicate that a lane is closed. Speed limits are shown in a red circle.


If the hard shoulder is in operation and you need to stop, try to get off the motorway at the next exit, use a refuge, or park on the verge with your hazard warning lights on. Exit via the left hand door and wait away from the motorway preferably behind the barrier. Dial 999 and advise police of your situation. Stay in your vehicle if you don’t feel safe getting out. The RCC will respond and will close the lane until you can be moved to safety.


Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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