Smart motorway safety improvement plans accelerated

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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 The plans are now for all DHS motorways to be withdrawn and replaced with ALR motorways, which have a lower fatality rate than traditional motorways.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.

A Highways England sign detailing smart motorway plans

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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Jordan Gibbons

By Jordan Gibbons

News Editor, owns some old bikes. Should know better.