A section of the M25 motorway has seen a 20-fold increase in ‘near misses’ since it was converted to a ‘smart’ all-lanes-running system. That’s up around 2,000 percent compared with 2014.
The figures were obtained via a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request made by the BBC Panorama programme.
In the five years prior to the road being made ‘smart’ in 2014, there were 72 near-misses. In the five years following, there have been 1,485. A near-miss is defined as an incident with ‘potential to cause injury or ill health’.
In all, the BBC reported that 38 people have been killed on smart motorways over the past five years.
The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said on Panorama that “We absolutely have to have these as safe or safer than regular motorways or we shouldn’t have them at all”.
Forthcoming measures to improve the safety of smart motorways include the scrapping of dynamic hard shoulders and an increase in emergency lay-bys. The government also has a new car detection system, which can spot drivers as soon as they break down, which has been operating on two sections of the M25.
At present, it takes around 17 minutes, on average, for a stopped vehicle to be ‘spotted’ on a smart motorway and another 17 minutes for it to be rescued.
‘Vehicle detection technology’ needed, says RAC
“A commitment to install stopped vehicle detection technology on the whole smart motorway network would be a welcome step and something the RAC has called for consistently in recent years,” said RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes.
“RAC research suggests that more than two-thirds of drivers believe that permanently removing the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown. Simply ploughing on with the status quo regardless isn’t an option anymore. However, three years to install this across the network is a long time to wait and questions must be asked as to why this hasn’t already been rolled out universally to date. It is vital that drivers have confidence in the road infrastructure that they are using.
“In the meantime, we would suggest Highways England gives consideration to installing extra cameras to help pick up vehicles in trouble on live lanes to help mitigate for the delay. In addition to this, we have long said the distance between SOS areas was too big so we would welcome a commitment to install more to increase the chances of vehicles being able to reach one in the event of a breakdown and a widescale public information campaign.”
Smart motorways “should never have happened”
Sir Mike Penning is the former government minister who gave smart motorways the go-ahead in 2010, after a successful trial on the M42. Unlike the trial, which had emergency refuges every 600 metres, in some cases they’re 2.5 miles apart.
“They are endangering people’s lives,” he said. “There are people that are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”