In a Parliamentary Statement he said, “Following concerns about Smart Motorway safety, I asked my Department to review the evidence and, if needed, bring forward recommendations. Today I am publishing that work and taking the action necessary to ensure our roads are as safe as they can be.
“Overall, what the evidence shows is that in most ways, smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones. But not in every way. To ensure we are doing all we can do to improve safety, I am publishing a package of 18 measures. This will allow us to retain the benefits of smart motorways while addressing the concerns that have been identified.”
Smart Motorways have helped us cope with a 23 per cent rise in traffic since 2000. They save motorists thousands of hours sitting in jams. They reduce the disruption and environmental destruction which would otherwise be needed to widen our busiest roads. Their growth, however, has not always been well explained, there is not uniformity, and concerns exist over safety.
“As part of our work we listened to the families who’ve campaigned on this issue, and I want to pay tribute them. I’m also grateful to Colleagues and groups like the AA and RAC who have pursued this issue and helped us reach this outcome.
“Alongside the report, and annexed to it, which will be published on gov.uk, therefore, I am launching an extended package of measures – an Action Plan – to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. It will include:
- 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 patrolson 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 ¾ of a milewhere feasible so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be 1 mile;
- installing ten additional emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorwayson 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 moreemergency 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 Wakefieldwhere 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 £5m 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’ messagesautomatically 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 satnavby working with satnav providers to ensure the locations are shown on the screen, when needed;
- making it easier to call for help if broken downby 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 camerasand 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 3 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 Codeto provide more guidance;
- closer working with the recovery industryon training and procedures;
- reviewing existing emergency areaswhere the width is less than the current 15-foot-wide standard. If feasible and appropriate we will widen to this standard; and
- a review of the use of red flashing lightsto 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.
“My point on communication with drivers is important. Motorists could be better informed about this change in our motorways. Many do not know exactly what a smart motorway is, and are not aware of when they are on one or not. We need to tackle the public perception of, and public confidence in, the safety of smart motorways as much as the reality.
“By these measures we ensure safety is at the heart of our smart motorway programme and assure public confidence in the motorway network. We will continue to monitor the data and work with campaigners to ensure that improvements are delivered.
In response, RAC head of roads policy 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.
“We don’t believe the main issue at hand here is the safety of smart motorways with ‘dynamic’ hard shoulders, given this type of motorway has not been built for many years and represents a tiny fraction of the overall motorway network.
“This is a red herring and in reality, there were never enough of these schemes built for drivers to get used to them before the switch was made, without any consultation, to building smart motorways that have the hard shoulder permanently removed. Only time will tell whether all lane-running schemes really are an improvement over either controlled or dynamic hard shoulder motorways.
“The safe running of any smart motorway heavily depends on drivers being able to see, and react to red X signage indicating where lanes are closed. We are disappointed that the review has not looked at the spacing of red X gantry signage as we believe in too many instances signs are spaced too far apart, increasing the possibility of drivers not seeing them. The difference between a driver seeing and reacting to a red X sign, or missing it, could literally be life or death.
“On the basis all lane running smart motorways remain the default, 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. This is somewhat compensated by the promise of more Highways England patrol officers on certain stretches of smart motorway, but the key challenge must be to get live lanes closed as soon as possible when vehicles become stranded, so a priority should also be to have more cameras and more staff in control centres to monitor the network.
“Additional emergency refuge areas on the M25 is welcome, but we believe that the spacing standard must be applied across the board where practical. The Government says it is considering a national programme for installing more refuge areas on the smart motorway network – we say that they should consider no longer and make it an absolute priority going forward.
“t is vital that drivers have confidence in the infrastructure they are using and we continue to urge the Government to take into account those with mobility issues for whom the advice of leaving the vehicle and getting over the barrier is not always practical.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to allow roadside patrols and recovery workers to use red flashing lights – a step that we hope will improve the safety of roadside patrol and operators.”