Smart motorway building halted by DfT.

The government as put the project on hold until additional safety measures are in place.

Running to standstill

The statement says that any new “all lane running” roads would need radar technology installed first to detect stopped cars.

Smart motorways use technology and other measures to cut congestion, such as opening the hard shoulder. But safety fears hve dogged the project over the years with a number of fatal accidents. These have involved stationary cars being hit from behind on the fast moving roads.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that for every hundred million miles driven there were fewer deaths on all-lane motorways than conventional ones. But he adds: “We are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safer and be safer on our roads – all our roads.”

Highways England will now accelerate the introduction of a number of safety measures set out last year.  Most significantly, radar-based stopped vehicle detection technology will now be installed on all operational all lane running (ALR) motorways by September 2022. This is six months earlier than planned.

“No ALR motorways will open without radar technology to spot stopped vehicles,”

Other measures include upgrading cameras. This means motorists ignoring closed lanes – indicated by red X signs – can be caught and prosecuted. There will also be more signs up about distances to emergency refuge areas.

Mortal mistakes

In 2019, 15 people were killed on “all lane running” and “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways. This is four more deaths than in 2018. I the last five years, 39 people have been killed on Smart motorways.

By contrast, ‘controlled motorways’ that have variable speed limits and a hard shoulder recorded 24 deaths.

The Commons’ Transport Select Committee has launched an inquiry into smart motorways. Chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman warns there are “genuine worries” about the roads.

More work needed

The RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, is worried that there will still be an 18 month wait for effective changes. Current Smart motorways are still a problem, with a lack of radar tech and poor observation of gantry signs.

“Enforcement is vital in getting all drivers to obey these signs,” he says. “Anyone who disregards them is at a much greater risk of being in collision with a stranded vehicle.”

Smart motorways, which use technology to maintain the flow of traffic and give information on overhead displays. They first appeared in 2002 in England. The “all lane running” versions – which involves opening the hard shoulder permanently to drivers – began in 2014.

In January, a coroner in Sheffield found such roads “present an ongoing risk of future deaths”. Two people were killed when a lorry ploughed into their vehicles while they were stationary on the M1 in South Yorkshire.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason Mercer died in the accident in June 2019, said: “It’s all compromises. Nothing is new. Nothing short of giving back the hard shoulder in every single instance will be acceptable.”

A start

Whilst AA president Edmund King describes the announcement as “encouraging” he wants retrospective progress.  “The number one improvement advocated by the AA and our members is to increase the number of emergency refuge areas (ERAs),” he says. “Retrofit them to older schemes to ensure they are placed at approximately 0.75 miles apart.” He also says “improving the accuracy of stopped vehicle detection radar, should be the urgent priorities.”

A further 300 miles of smart motorways are planned by 2025. This is on top of the 500 miles currently running. Much of this has no radar technology at all, instead using human observation watchtowers.