Smart motorway rollout paused for safety data collection

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The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced a pause on the creation of all new smart motorways until a full five years of safety data is available for schemes opened before 2020.  

Revealed on Wednesday 12 January, the decision follows a previously publicised action plan from March 2021 to convert all smart motorways into All Lane Running (ALR) motorways, which feature no hard shoulder.

Considered safer than Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways - where the hard shoulder comes in and out of use - conversion of these routes will also be paused during the data collection, however it’s said new technology will be installed to help detect stopped vehicles.

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Alongside this latest decision will be a £900 million investment to improve safety, including £390 million for the installation of over 150 new emergency areas on existing ALR routes - representing around a 50% increase by 2025.

Despite pausing the construction of new ALR routes whilst data is collection, National Highways did confirm any schemes already started would be completed and "will all open with technology in place to detect stopped vehicles."

Design work will also continue on planned projects to allow for a more seamless production restart, depending on the outcome of the pause.

Speaking in a statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.

"I want to thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns."

Smart motorway safety improvement plans accelerated

First published on 23 April 2021 by Jordan Gibbons

A Highways England sign detailing smart motorway plans

Highways England (HE), working in tandem with the Department for Transport (DfT), has produced an action plan for ‘smart motorways’ that should significantly boost safety.

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In England there are two types of ‘smart motorway’: All Lane Running (ALR) motorways with no hard shoulder, such as the M25, and Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways where the hard shoulder comes in and out of use, such as the M4.

Both have received considerable attention in recent months but it’s the DHS motorways that have attracted more ire after a near 30% increase in deaths in 2019. The plans are now for all DHS motorways to be withdrawn and replaced with ALR motorways, which have a lower fatality rate than traditional motorways.

Alongside the retirement of DHS motorways, HE has also unveiled a range of upgrades they will bring to ALR motorways to make them safer still. By September 2022, HE say they will have installed radar technology to spot stricken vehicles on all existing stretches of ALR motorway, which is six month earlier than planned.

They have also committed to upgrading the camera technology that spots cars ignoring the red X lane closure sign and will install around 1000 additional approach signs to let drivers know where the nearest emergency refuge is. The government has also committed not to open any more ALR motorways without the additional safety measures in place.

"Despite the data showing that fatalities are less likely on ALR motorways than on conventional ones, this doesn’t mean all drivers necessarily feel safe on them," says Grant Shapps MP, Transport Secretary.

"Alongside the raft of measures already undertaken, today I am announcing that all new ALR motorways will open with stopped vehicle detection technology in place, as well as a programme to speed up the roll-out of the technology on previously built stretches of All Lane Running motorways to next year."

BBC investigation highlights dangers of smart motorways

First published on 27 January, 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

38 people have died on smart motorways

An investigation by the BBC has shown just how dangerous smart motorways can be. A smart motorway does not have a hard shoulder, instead relying on refuges and the ability to close lanes to traffic electronically.

However, the BBC has found that it takes on average 17 minutes to spot a broken down vehicle and another 17 to get that vehicle off the carriageway. The result is that one section of the M25 has seen 'near misses' rise 20-fold since the hard shoulder was removed.

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Despite smart motorways only accounting for a few hundred miles of the UK road network, 38 people have died on them – made all the more shocking when motorways are traditionally our safety roads.

The government will publish a review shortly, which is likely to include steps to make the roads safer, including better car detecting equipment.

Smart motorways were given the green light in 2010, however significant changes were made in the expansion. The pilot scheme had refuges every 600 metres, but in some sections of the expansion they are over two miles apart.

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Dan Sutherland

By Dan Sutherland

Senior Writer (motorcycling), sportsbike nut, currently riding a FireBlade