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30 Apr 2021
Jamie Gibbs Alice Campion

No more new smart motorways without safety measures, says Government

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Motorway at dusk

After a year of development, the Transport Secretary claims that no new smart motorways will be built without stopped vehicle detection.

Smart motorways are sections of motorway that use traffic management systems to reduce levels of congestion. 

After several fatal collisions on a stretch of smart motorway, pressure has been put on the government to make smart motorways safer. 

This week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps spoke about the progress the government has made on improving smart motorway safety.

But will this be enough to reassure motorists?

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Why are smart motorways dangerous? 

The national smart motorway programme was introduced to boost capacity on some of the UK’s busiest routes. 

But campaigners have long been unhappy about the safety implications of removing the hard shoulder. Or in some cases, allowing vehicles to use it as a running lane. This leaves no refuge for cars that have broken down or stopped. 

The changes have meant that cars remain stationary in potentially busy traffic while waiting for breakdown services or police.  

 

What changed on smart motorways in 2020? 

Highways England has been making sure that each smart motorway has frequent emergency areas. The M25 now has 10 more of these. 

The emergency areas are coloured orange to ensure they’re more visible to drivers. Signage for these has improved too, so drivers will know where the next emergency stop area is. 

The M3 and the M20 have ‘radar-based stopped vehicle detection’ or SVD. This technology can detect a vehicle that’s stopped. 

Work is underway to get this technology on the M1 smart motorway stretch. But no new smart motorway will be launched without it. 

Cameras across all smart motorways have been upgraded for better detection to help police offers people driving in a closed lane. These are usually marked with a red x. 

Highways England has also launched a major safety campaign to give drivers clear advice about what to do if they break down on a smart motorway. You might have heard the “Go left” campaign advice on TV or radio.

Proposed changes to The Highway Code aim to provide more information on smart motorway driving too. 

But there’s still a lot of work to do. Highways England is now working towards completing all actions set out in the Highways England: Strategic Business Plan 2020-25 earlier than the 2025 deadline. 

 

'Abandon' smart motorways 

Earlier this year there was a call to abandon smart motorways. 

Most of the serious or fatal collisions have happened on a stretch of the M1 in South Yorkshire, the most recent of which happened in February 2021. 

There were also fatal collisions in 2018 and 2019. 

After an inquest into the collisions in 2019, coroner David Urpeth said that smart motorways come with an ongoing risk of future deaths. 

Dr Alan Billings, the Police and Crime Commissioner of South Yorkshire Police, commented: 

"I do not believe there is anyone who uses this stretch of the motorway, as I do, who does not feel anxious when driving along it." 

He urged Highways England to scrap the smart motorway system. 

"I call upon the minister and Highways England to abandon this type of smart motorway before we have more serious injuries or fatalities." 

Highways England maintains that smart motorways are safer than conventional ones. 

They say: 

“The data contained in the Highways England progress report continues to show that fatal casualties are less likely on all-lane-running motorways than on conventional ones."

"But we know drivers can feel less safe on roads without hard shoulders, which is why the progress report, published today, intends to accelerate a number of actions to provide reassurance to drivers.”

To see the full proposed safety measures, visit Highways England

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