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Smart motorway section of the M1

Smart motorway safety plan revealed by government

Smart motorway section of the M1

Smart motorways are to be overhauled by a series of measures aimed at improving safety and driver confidence.

These include abolishing the ‘dynamic hard shoulder’, building more emergency areas, and speeding up the installation of cameras that detect stopped vehicles.

The target is for a radar-based ‘stopped vehicle detection’ system to be installed across the smart motorway network within three years.

They can detect stopped vehicles within 20 seconds and then quickly close live lanes.  

Earlier this year, it was reported smart motorways don’t always detect broken-down cars

“In most ways, smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps in announcing the measures.

However, some risks are higher, he acknowledged – including the risk of a collision between a stationary and moving vehicle.

The action plan will “allow us to retain the benefits of smart motorways while addressing the concerns that have been identified”.

‘Confusing’

Mr Shapps acknowledged that dynamic hard shoulders are confusing. These are where the hard shoulder operates only intermittently, and is otherwise a live running lane during peak times.

This earlier type of smart motorway is no longer built and today only forms a small proportion of the overall network.

More significant measures include reducing the distance to emergency areas to around three-quarters of a mile, and to a maximum of one mile.

Today, they can be spaced up to a mile and a half apart.

An additional 10 emergency areas will be installed on the M25 and Highways England will investigate sections of the M6 and M1 where there has been a series of accidents.

The government also plans to spend an extra £5 million on campaigns to inform motorists about smart motorways and how to use them safely.

Launching later in 2020, these will include advice on what to do if drivers break down on a smart motorway.

Smart motorway action plan: industry reaction

RAC head of roads Nicholas Lyes said: “Two-thirds of drivers tell us that they believe permanently removing the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown.

“While it is welcome that the Government has listened to their concerns and undertaken this review, it remains to be seen whether these measures go far enough to protect drivers who are unfortunate enough to break down in live lanes.”

Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Mr Shapps is the first Secretary of State for many years who has listened to what we have to say and who is taking action.

“I am pleased at Mr Shapps’ announcement that an additional £5 million is to be spent on a national, targeted communication campaign to increase drivers’ understanding of how to use smart motorways properly.”

Regarding the number of safety areas, Mr Burnett said the RHA had “always considered there to be too few refuge areas following the initial pilot scheme on the M42 when they were 500m apart and we welcome an increase in their number.

“However, if smart motorways are to be smart, they should not have been rolled out before the ‘stopped vehicle detection systems’ were in place across the whole network. Waiting another three years is just too long.” 

Mr Lyes agreed: “The commitment to install stopped vehicle detection technology on the whole network is a positive step, but a three-year timeframe will feel like an eternity considering the concerns many drivers have about all lane running schemes.”

The RAC did, however, praise a commitment to allow roadside patrols and recovery vehicles to use red flashing lights – “a step that we hope will improve the safety of roadside patrol and operators”.

Smart motorways: 18 new safety measures

  • Abolishing the confusing ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ smart motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time and is a live running lane the rest of the time
  • Substantially speeding up the deployment of ‘stopped vehicle detection’ technology across the entire ‘all lane running’ smart motorway network, so stopped vehicles can be detected and the lanes closed more quickly
  • Highways England is to accelerate its plans and install the technology within the next 36 months, setting a clear public timetable for the first time
  • Faster attendance by more Highways England traffic officer patrols on smart motorways where the existing spacing between places to stop in an emergency is more than one mile, with the aim of reducing the attendance time from an average of 17 minutes to 10 minutes
  • Reducing the distance between places to stop in an emergency to three quarters of a mile where feasible so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be one mile
  • Installing 10 additional emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorways on the section of smart motorway with a higher rate of live lane stops and where places to stop in an emergency are furthest apart
  • Considering a national programme to install more emergency areas where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart
  • Investigating M6 Bromford viaduct and the M1 at Luton, Sheffield and Wakefield where there is evidence of clusters of incidents. Where an intervention is considered likely to make a difference, we will look to make changes at these locations
  • Making emergency areas more visible – all emergency areas will have a bright orange road surface, dotted lines on the surfacing showing where to stop, better and more frequent signs on approach and signs inside giving information on what to do in an emergency. These will be installed by the end of spring 2020
  • More traffic signs giving the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency, so you will almost always be able to see a sign. Typically, these will be between approximately 330 and 440 yards apart
  • More communication with drivers. We recognise that we could do more therefore we are committing to an additional £5 million on national targeted communications campaigns to further increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways, how they work and how to use them confidently
  • Displaying ‘report of obstruction’ messages automatically on electronic signs, triggered by the stopped vehicle detection system, to warn drivers of a stopped vehicle ahead, this is currently being trialled on the M25 and then a further trial on the M3
  • Places to stop in an emergency shown on your sat-nav by working with sat-nav providers to ensure the locations are shown on the screen, when needed
  • Making it easier to call for help if broken down by working with car manufacturers to improve awareness of the use of the eCall ‘SOS’ button in newer cars to call for help
  • We have changed the law to enable automatic detection of ‘red X’ violations and enforcement using cameras and we will be expanding the upgrade of smart motorway cameras (HADECS) to identify more of those who currently ignore the ‘red X’. The penalty is three points on the driver’s licence and a £100 fine, or the driver can be referred to an awareness course
  • An update of the Highway Code to provide more guidance
  • Closer working with the recovery industry on training and procedures
  • Reviewing existing emergency areas where the width is less than the current 15 foot wide standard. If feasible and appropriate we will widen to this standard
  • A review of the use of red flashing lights to commence immediately. We have listened to the calls for recovery vehicles to be allowed to use red flashing lights. We will commence work immediately on a review

Explained: The pros and cons of smart motorways

Smart motorways dangerous

When smart motorways were introduced in 2006, the goal was to tackle stop-start congestion using variable speed limits – and in some cases by incorporating the hard shoulder as a running lane.

Another aim was a reduction in collisions, as in theory traffic can be better controlled in relation to stopped vehicles. However, this latter goal has not been achieved, leading to considerable controversy.

With help from Moneybarn, we weigh up the pros and cons of smart motorways in light of the bad press – and plans for the ‘smart’ conversion of 300 miles of motorway between now and 2025. 

Smart motorways: the pros

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

Increasing traffic flow

The obvious way to increase traffic flow is to add lanes. So you either build them, at great expense, or you convert existing space that’s not in use to a running lane. That’s what smart motorways do with hard shoulders, with the proviso that the lane can be deactivated in the event of a stopped vehicle being detected. There are also emergency refuge areas that ailing vehicles can use.

Broadly speaking, this was successful. Highways England figures showed that journey reliability was improved by 22 percent on roads where smart conversions took place.

Savings money and the environment

The conversion of hard shoulders reduces expenditure on new lanes. That’s a saving made by the taxpayer, who would have footed the bill.

A less obvious saving is the environmental one. Better controlling traffic flow and speed, and mitigating stop-start movement, reduces emissions. It also means your car suffers less wear and tear.

Smart Motorway stopped vehicle detection doesn't always work

Hard shoulder safety was an issue anyway

One thing that’s curious to note is the safety record of non-smart motorway hard shoulders. In total, 40 percent of incidents involving a stopped-vehicle occur on a hard shoulder. 

Emergency refuge areas, properly distributed, make collisions less likely due to their being separated from the road. Vehicles are less likely to drift into them than a hard shoulder, too.

Smart motorways: the cons

Smart motorway emergency area upgrades

All-lanes-running casualties

Recent spates of casualties, crashes and near-misses involving stranded vehicles on all-lanes-running stretches have cast a shadow on the smart motorway idea. Indeed, some MPs have called for the rollout of these roads to be stopped. The AA won’t let its crews stop to help motorists until they’re towed to a refuge area.

It’s been posited this can be avoided with better stopped-vehicle detection systems, plus more frequent refuge areas. At the time of the smart motorway trials, refuge areas were four times closer together than on some later installations.

Emergency refuge areas

Which leads us into the emergency refuge area point. The consensus is that we need more of them, so that fewer people stop in-lane.

However, while you’re likely to be safer while stationary, getting back onto the road from a refuge area can be more dangerous. Hard shoulders offer more of a run-up when it comes to rejoining running lanes. Refuge areas are limited on space, and it can therefore be difficult to re-join safely, unless the lane you’re entering is slowed down.

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

Land of confusion

Much has been made of how smart motorways are confusing for road users. “Some hard shoulders on dynamic smart motorways are only open to running traffic during the morning and evening peaks, but this catches out some drivers when their routine changes,” Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told the Commons Transport Select Committee last year. 

Many don’t know that they can use the hard shoulder, others worry about sudden speed limit changes. However, it was recently revealed that smart motorway cameras give a one-minute grace period to drivers after a reduction in limit on the overhead gantries.

Smart motorways: is there a future for them?

smart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

There is a consensus, generally, that a couple of things need to occur to make smart motorways safe.

Firstly, drivers need to know how they work, and how to use them. And secondly, all-lanes-running necessitates more frequent refuge areas, plus better stopped-vehicle detection.

Smart motorway rollout is put on hold, pending safety review

smart motorway rollout halted

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has put the expansion of the smart motorway network on hold, following high numbers of road deaths and reports of ‘near misses’.

The rollout will be halted until the government has concluded a review, first announced in October 2019. This followed concerns about drivers who break down in live lanes with no hard shoulder.

“For me, we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue,” said Shapps. smart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

“Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives,” a Highways England spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Transport Secretary has asked the Department for Transport to carry out, at pace, an evidence stock-take to gather the facts about smart motorway safety. We are committed to safety and are supporting the department in its work on this.”

Smart motorways 2020

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for smart motorways. Damning figures related to motorway deaths and near-misses, related to ‘all-lanes-running’ sections have drummed up a media furore. In total, 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the past five years. An increase in near-misses of 2,000 percent was also reported on a section of the M25.

A group of MPs, led by the ex-minister who signed off smart motorway expansion, then published a damning report on the programme. Sir Mike Penning revealed that he wasn’t privy to the plan to extend the 600-metre distance between refuge areas – used for the trial-run on the M42 – to 2,500 metres.

“I feel I was totally misled,” said Penning. “They are endangering people’s lives. People are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”

Smart motorway rollout halted: the RAC reactssmart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

“The fundamental issues of SOS area spacing and stopped vehicle detection, raised four years ago, remain,” said RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes. 

“We very much hope the current review results in some meaningful changes that give drivers confidence in all aspects of safety on smart motorways. The type of smart motorways that have been built in recent years differ enormously from those from those that were first introduced in England. On today’s ‘all-lanes-running’ smart motorways, hard shoulders have been permanently removed and SOS areas are spaced much further apart.”

Smart Motorway stopped vehicle detection doesn't always work

“Short of reintroducing the hard shoulder, the introduction of the latest radar technology to detect stationary vehicles automatically, together with many more SOS areas and a large-scale public information campaign, should help make drivers feel more confident in the safety of the UK’s motorway network.

“A rethink in the design of smart motorways is clearly needed to bring consistency, reduce risks in breakdowns, and turn around plummeting public confidence. As it stands, we are not convinced that the current ‘all-lanes-running’ design is working and have reservations as to whether it should be the de facto standard going forward.”

Speeders get 1-minute grace period on smart motorways

smart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

New research reveals that when a speed limit changes on a smart motorway, drivers have a one-minute ‘grace period’ before speed cameras will flash them.

A Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to Highways England, made by Auto Express, revealed that the cameras do not begin enforcement of the new speed limit until one minute after it has changed.

smart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

‘Following a change in the speed displayed by signals there is a 60-second ‘grace period’ before HADECS3 cameras start enforcement, giving time for drivers to adapt to the new mandatory speed limit, especially when speed limits are reduced due to slow-moving or queuing traffic up ahead,’ the organisation told Auto Express.

‘This gives drivers time to slow down and reduces the need for braking sharply.’

What does this mean for motorists? Well, if the speed limit has changed on a smart motorway, and you aren’t able to slow down in time, as long as you’re within a minute of the change, you shouldn’t be flashed.

smart motorway speed cameras one minute grace period

“This discovery will reassure drivers passing under motorway gantries just as they’ve reduced the limit that a nasty letter won’t be in the post to them,” said Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA.

“A 60-second grace period seems sensible and allows more than enough time for drivers further back to slow down safely.”

By default, the national speed limit of 70mph applies on smart motorways. And there is the ‘margin of error’ that we’ve reported on previously to consider, too – so you shouldn’t be flashed at 73mph, for example.

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

Smart motorways: “I was totally misled,” says MP

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

The furore around around so-called ‘smart motorways’ has been stoked by the former roads minister who gave them the go-head in 2010. Sir Mike Penning has published a report that calls for smart motorways to be stopped until they are proven safe, or technology is installed to make them safe.

Conservative MP Penning approved the roll-out of smart motorways after being shown the promising results of a trial on the M42. This included hard shoulders converted to running lanes, with refuge areas every 600 metres. 

“I spoke to the Secretary of State,” he recalls, “and told him the evidence showed there was no greater risk. So we signed them off.”

Smart motorways 2020

So what has changed? Penning claims in the report that he wasn’t told by Highways England (then the Highways Agency) that refuge areas would be fewer and further-between. Across the 400 miles of motorway that are now all-lanes-running, most are around 1.5 miles (2,500 metres) apart.

“I feel that I was totally misled. I’m an ex-fireman, and I’ve cut people out of car wrecks. I know how much this matters,” he said.

“They are endangering people’s lives. People are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

Sir John Hayes, roads minister for two years until 2018, also “repeatedly” raised concerns about the spacing, he told The Telegraph.

“My argument was that you need more regular refuges, each less than a mile apart,” he said.

“I repeatedly pressed for this and didn’t want any more roll-out of smart motorways unless these refuges were in place.”

How can smart motorways be made safe?Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

The AA recently uncovered a damning document that dates back to June 2012. It proposed the spreading-out of refuge areas, far beyond the 600 metres of the trial run. “By rationalising refuge areas… savings can be made on a significant item of capital infrastructure,” it said. The AA summarised this as a ‘deliberate cost-cutting measure’.

The other side of the coin is improved stopped-vehicle detection. In 2016 Highways England committed to the installation of technology that would give better warnings of broken-down cars. To date, that technology is running on 25 miles of the M25 – roughly 16 percent of the current ‘smart’ network.

In the five years since smart motorways were introduced, there have been 38 deaths on these stretches of road – plus a massive 2,000 percent increase in potentially deadly near-miss incidents recorded on a section of the M25. There are even suggestions of corporate manslaughter charges against Highways England.

Smart motorways slammed in MP's report

“They need bigger and more frequent refuge areas and better signage to ensure drivers understand when hard shoulders are closed to active running,” said Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

The RAC draws attention to the stopped-vehicle detection system deficit, as well as refuge areas.

“This report shines a light on the huge concerns that exist about the safety of all-lane-running smart motorways in the event of a breakdown,” said RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes.

Smart Motorways

“With more than two-thirds of drivers telling the RAC that the permanent removal of the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown, it is now abundantly clear things need to change.

“We have consistently called for the roll-out of stopped vehicle detection radar technology to quickly identify stranded vehicles and additional SOS areas to give drivers a greater chance of reaching one in the event of an emergency, thereby reducing the collision risk.”

Smart motorways 2020

Smart motorway ‘near misses’ soar by 2,000 percent

Smart motorways 2020

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’. 

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

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”. 

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

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 RACSmart motorway cameras always on

“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”Smart Motorways

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.”

Smart Motorway stopped vehicle detection doesn't always work

Smart motorways don’t always detect broken down cars

Smart Motorway stopped vehicle detection doesn't always work

It’s been revealed that the Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) systems currently in use on the M25 and proposed for other smart motorways aren’t always effective. This is because it generates an “unmanageable amount of false alarms” when there is a high volume of traffic. 

According to documents obtained by The Sunday Times, there is no way to detect a stopped car when the volume of traffic exceeds a certain level. Similar issues occur when speeds drop to crawling pace. On average, drivers spend 17 minutes in live lanes before they are detected as being stationary. 

Smart motorways dangerous

In a letter, Britain’s chief highways engineer, Mike Wilson, wrote: “the density of traffic at higher volumes means it is very difficult to detect stopped lone vehicles without an unmanageable amount of false alarms”. This letter was contained within inquest documents pertaining to the case of Dev Naran, an eight-year-old killed in a collision on a smart section of the M6. He was in a stationary car hit by a lorry between junctions five and six.

“I remember the night the police officers came to tell me that Dev had died,” Dev’s mother said in a statement.

“Even they told me smart motorways are dangerous. Why won’t Highways England and the government accept the truth?”

Smart motorways dangerous

It seems that SVD isn’t the comprehensive solution that’s needed, even as the government moves to deploy it country-wide. At the moment, smart motorways aside from the M25 rely on a Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling (Midas) system.

At present, there are 13 ‘all lane running‘ sections of motorway where the hard shoulder has been removed, on the M1, M3, M5, M6 and M25. Nine were killed on the UK’s smart motorways last year. Five came within ten months on a section of the M1 near Sheffield.

How to use emergency refuge areas on smart motorways

Do you know how to use emergency refuge areas on smart motorways?

Emergency refuge areas are a safe haven for stranded vehicles on busy smart motorways – but alarmingly, more than half of motorists don’t know what they are or how to use them.

That’s according to research by the RAC, which surveyed 2,000 drivers and discovered that only 1.5 percent of respondents have ever used an emergency refuge area.

If you’re not familiar with emergency refuge areas, they’re similar to laybys and are located on stretches where the hard shoulder is sometimes open as a live lane on smart motorways.

They’re only meant to be used in an emergency – something 98 percent of motorists realise, according to the RAC’s research.

Did you know? 

What many drivers didn’t realise, however, is that you’re supposed to contact Highways England before rejoining the motorway if the hard shoulder is acting as a running lane.

If you didn’t know this, you’re not alone – just one respondent to the RAC’s survey did.

“It is essential that motorists understand how and when to use an emergency refuge area so they do not put their own safety and that of other road users at risk,” said the RAC’s chief engineer, David Bizley.

“Vehicles should pull up to the indicated mark on the tarmac or the emergency telephone and then the occupants should leave the vehicle from the passenger side.

“Everyone should stand behind the barriers and should use the emergency roadside telephone provided to speak to a Highways England representative.”

What is a smart motorway?

Smart motorways are becoming increasingly widespread – including sections of the M6, M25 and M1. They open up the hard shoulder as a live lane during busy periods to ease congestion, and control traffic flow using variable speed limits displayed on overhead gantries.

Emergency refuge areas are located on smart motorways and positioned every 1.5 miles with an emergency roadside phone available to request assistance. Cameras monitor the motorways and lanes can be remotely closed if required, for example if a vehicle breaks down.

Part-time hard shoulders are ‘too complicated’, says motorways boss

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

The chief executive of Highways England has described dynamic smart motorways as “too complicated for people to use”. Jim O’Sullivan made the statement to the Commons Transport Select Committee.

Dynamic smart motorways are those where the hard shoulder is used as an active lane during peak times. They account for 68 miles of the ‘smart’ network, while 135 miles use the ‘all lanes running’ system.

It’s the former that apparently causes problems for drivers, claims O’Sullivan. As a result, there are no plans to roll out the dynamic system further. And existing dynamic areas could be reverted to ‘all lanes running’ in future.

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

The RAC has called for a rapid standardisation of smart motorways across the UK, to avoid confusion among motorists.

We feel a decision should also be taken to standardise all smart motorways so drivers are not confused by the different types,” said RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes.

“At the moment there is a risk that some motorists use the hard shoulder when they shouldn’t, perhaps as a force of habit from doing so most days, because they tend to use these types of motorway at peak hours.”

RAC: concerns around ‘all lanes running’

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

The Highways England chief executive has conceded that dynamic hard shoulders prove too confusing for drivers. However, concerns remain around the ‘all lanes running’ system. The RAC worries that SOS areas are still too far apart – and that systems designed to recognise broken-down cars in active lanes are not available everywhere they should be.

“While Highways England feels smart motorways are safe, we know many drivers believe that removing the hard shoulder compromises safety for those who break down in a live lane,” said Mr Lyes.

“In early 2017 the Government claimed there was ‘good progress’ being made in making smart motorways safer by reducing the space between SOS areas, ensuring drivers comply with red X ‘closed lane’ signs and rolling out stopped vehicle detection technology.”

Dynamic smart motorways too confusing says Highways England chief

“Sadly, we understand that only a fifth of ‘all lane running stretches’ of smart motorway are currently benefiting from stopped vehicle detection technology which hardly constitutes a roll-out. We believe this technology needs to be retrofitted to all existing smart motorways as a matter of urgency.

“There has been a similar lack of progress in reducing the distance between SOS areas. Schemes currently under construction, and new ones being consulted on, still feature SOS areas at up to 2.5km apart as opposed to the lesser distance of 1.5km, which we believe Highways England had committed to.

“We strongly believe the Government should compel Highways England to make smart motorways as safe as possible by implementing these measures. Only then can drivers have sufficient confidence in using them knowing that all smart motorways are operating to a consistent safety standard, particularly in the event they break down on one.”

Smart motorways should be banned, says road safety group

Rex X smart motorways

A road safety organisation has joined the calls to put the brakes on the rollout of smart motorways.

Some argue the absence of a hard shoulder makes smart motorways more dangerous than conventional motorways – a claim disputed by Highways England.

It says journey reliability has improved by 22 percent and personal injury accidents have reduced by more than a half since the introduction of the first smart motorway in 2006.

But Gem Motoring Assist is calling for smart motorways to be banned until a proper safety review has been carried out. It’s also demanding more refuge areas to provide a safe haven for stranded motorists.

‘Proper safety review’ is required

Smart motorways dangerous

Gem road safety officer Neil Worth said: “Motorways may be the fastest roads we use, but they are statistically also the safest; and there are fewer collisions on motorways than on other roads.

“However, the high speeds used on motorways mean that when there is a crash, it is likely to be more serious. That’s why, on average, around one in 50 motorway collisions is fatal, compared with one in 70 on all other roads.

“We are also asking ministers and highways authorities specifically to call a halt to their rollout of smart motorways across the country until a proper review of safety has been completed and adequate refuge areas provided for drivers.

“In order to maximise safety, we also urge drivers to ensure they know the rules and signs relating to smart motorways, which are becoming more commonplace.”

‘Safest in the world’

Red X closed lanes smart motorway fines

Highways England insists smart motorways are safe and is investing around £3 billion in their rollout until 2020.

The agency faced criticism last month after a lorry ploughed into the back of a broken down vehicle in a stretch of hard shoulder being used as a live lane of the M1 near Chesterfield. 

When asked about the dangers of smart motorways, a spokesperson for Highways England told Derbyshire Live that it would “never carry out a major improvement scheme” without being confident in maintaining its roads as “among the very safest in the world”.

“Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.“

Click here for our guide to driving on a smart motorway.

Highways England responds

Highways England has responded, saying its own assessment shows that accident and injury figures are falling. Collisions and casualties are, it says, 4.3 and 5.9 percent lower respectively than in 2017.Motorway speed limit 80

Emergency areas, slip-road hard shoulders and other places to stop in emergencies are located at least every 1.5 miles on all-lane running stretches of motorway. Highways England reiterated its commitment to reducing that distance to one mile from 2020.

“Safety is the top priority for Highways England and we urge everyone who uses our roads to make it theirs, too,” said Highways England head of road safety, Richard Leonard.

“Any death, on any type of road, is one too many. We’re working hard to improve England’s motorways and A-roads and we need your help. We all have a role to play to make sure we all get home, safe and well and we’re asking all drivers to make their own safety, and that of other people, the most important thing to think about when they travel. Remember to check your vehicle, obey all signs and think about other drivers.”