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Managed Motorways

November 2009

Over many years the Highways Agency has been exploring different methods of increasing capacity at motorway hotspots around the country. This has led to feasibility studies into widening parts of the network, introducing traffic management systems, legislation changes etc. One concept which has been developed is Managed Motorways, which has come out of the M42 Active Traffic Management (ATM) trial in the West Midlands. Managed Motorways come in several formats and are planned to be used at various locations on the motorway network.

This article gives a detailed insight into Managed Motorways; how they operate, the benefits they deliver to the Highways Agency and the impact they will have on the way incidents will be managed in the future.

What is the main aim of Managed Motorways?

The main aim of Managed Motorways is to increase traffic capacity without having to widen the existing carriageway, which is a costlier and more disruptive option. This is managed through making the best use of the existing available carriageway space.

Managed Motorways

How do Managed Motorways operate?

Managed Motorways make the best use of various traffic management measures and systems which control the flow of traffic through congested parts of the network. A key example of this is the scheme on the M42 in the West Midlands.

Sensors located on the carriageway detect current traffic speeds and volumes, and provide a useful way of monitoring congestion. During busy periods (or when the sensors indicate congestion may be likely) operators in the RCC can control the speed of traffic along the managed section of the motorway by setting variable mandatory speed limit (VMSL) signals which are placed on gantries above running carriageway lanes.

Another feature of Managed Motorways, which is also the most publicised, is the concept of "hard shoulder running", known formally as Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS). This is similar to the idea of a controlled motorway described above, but in addition the hard shoulder is used as an additional running lane. When hard shoulder running is in operation vehicle speeds in all lanes operate at a maximum of 60mph.

Since September 2006 Managed Motorways and hard shoulder running has been in operation between junctions 3a and 7 on the M42. Studies have indicated that it has been successful in reducing congestion and improving traffic flows around Birmingham. As a result, the Secretary of State for Transport announced in January 2009 that further Managed Motorways schemes will be implemented across England.

Further information on these schemes is detailed within this article under Future Schemes. 


There is a series of ongoing studies into the benefits being realised from the trial on the M42. They have identified the following as key benefits from implementing a Managed Motorways environment on the strategic road network.

  • Reduced congestion
  • Improved journey time reliability
  • Increased capacity
  • Reduced emissions
  • Reduced incidents

Implications for Incident Management

Managed Motorways generate a different working environment for incident responders who are used to operating on standard motorways. As a result, they require a number of different operational procedures to those used on standard roads, which includes a special emphasis on clearing the hard shoulder prior to operation and dealing with incidents in a more efficient manner.

The increased presence of CCTV cameras and traffic flow sensors allows for faster detection of incidents either through direct detection on camera or through monitoring traffic speeds. This allows a quicker response, which is vital in preventing secondary collisions.

As well as reducing congestion by varying the speed of traffic, Managed Motorways can also be used to manage traffic around an incident. Operators can set signs and signals on the approach to an incident to alert drivers of the conditions ahead, and can direct drivers around the scene by opening and closing the appropriate running lanes. New variable message signals provide greater driver information, improving customer perception.

Please follow the link to see the various technology and features of ATM on the M42.

Vehicles which are experiencing problems will not be able to stop on the hard shoulder while it is open to traffic. To compensate for this, Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) are provided at intervals along the hard shoulder. Each of these contains an emergency roadside telephone located behind a safety barrier. Drivers are encouraged to use ERAs for added security even when hard shoulder running is not in operation. 

The Highways Agency are currently negotiating with the emergency services and various other agencies to discuss various methods as to how they access an incident scene on Managed Motorways. Traffic officers and the emergency services often access an incident scene by using the hard shoulder. This practice is still valid for Managed Motorways. On detection of an incident, one of the operator's first actions is to close the hard shoulder, so traffic filters back to the standard running lanes. Hard shoulder running has not delayed or prevented responders from getting to incident scenes on the M42; however it must be noted that no serious incidents have taken place since the implementation of ATM. 

Another way to access an incident scene can be to travel from the nearest junction upstream of the incident. However, this can only being carried out when traffic has been stopped at the incident location. To assist this, enhanced CCTV camera monitoring allows operators to determine promptly whether it is safe to access an incident in this manner.

In addition, the use of signs and signals provide greater protection for responders at the incident scene, as drivers are more aware of the lanes they should be using. However, this will not reduce the need to use cones and other traffic management at incidents.

The M42 trial is proving to be a success, however Managed Motorways is not the only answer to dealing with the demands on the motorway network but is an excellent example of the way in which the Highways Agency is taking an innovative approach to meeting the needs of its customers and improving safety for responders when they are called on to deal with an incident.

Future Schemes

Detailed below are Managed Motorway schemes which are currently being considered by the Secretary of State for Transport.

  Start on Site Fully Operational Details
M40 J16-M42 J3a (Birmingham Box Phase 1) Autumn 2008 End of 2009 VMSL only
M42 J7-9 (Birmingham Box Phase 1) Autumn 2008 End of 2009 VMSL only
M6 J4-5 (Birmingham Box Phase 1) Autumn 2008 End of 2009 VMSL and hard shoulder running
M6 J8-10A (Birmingham Box Phase 2) Early 2009 Spring 2011 VMSL and hard shoulder running
M6 J5-8 (Birmingham Box Phase 3) 2010 2012 VMSL and hard shoulder running
M1 J10-13 Late 2009 Unknown  
M4 J19-20 and M5 J15-17 2010 2012  
M62 J25-30 2010 2012  
M62 J18-20 Before 2011 Unknown  

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