Government plans announced to tackle smart motorway safety concerns
The UK government has published its action plan to address smart motorway safety concerns, following a report that revealed 38 people had died on smart motorways in the past 5 years.
The smart motorway Action Plan, published on 12th March by the Department for Transport, will abolish dynamic hard shoulder use. It also intends to install more emergency refuge areas, and speed up the roll-out of the ‘SVD’ stopped vehicle detection system which lets authorities know a vehicle is stranded on the motorway.
Britain’s ‘killer motorways’?
A Panorama episode aired in January 2020, referring to ‘Britain’s killer motorways’, coincided with a report published by a group of MPs who strongly criticised Highways England for ‘ignoring commitments’ on safety systems for smart motorways. Since then, the government has worked to put together an Action Plan to address the major areas of concern.
Abolishment of dynamic hard shoulder and other measures
The Action Plan is an 18-point set of measures ‘to improve safety and public confidence’, according to the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
- The abolishment of ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ motorways – the hard shoulder will no longer be switched on and off for use as a driving lane
- Speeding up deployment of stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology so lanes can be closed more quickly
- Faster attendance by Highways England traffic officer patrols
- Reducing the distance between emergency refuge areas to ¾ mile were feasible, with a maximum space of 1 mile
- Greater visibility of emergency refuge areas
10 additional emergency areas will be installed on the existing M25 smart motorway. Highways England are due to investigate ‘what more can be done’ on sections of the M6 and M1 where there have been ‘clusters’ of incidents.
The campaign has also committed £5 million to a communication campaign to further increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways.
‘Red X’ violations will be clamped down on
Part of the measures announced is a change in law which will enable automatic detection of ‘red X’ violations – where drivers ignore the X that indicates they should not be driving in a specific lane.
The red X is used to close lanes that are obstructed by a stopped vehicle; motorists ignoring this could receive 3 points on their licence and a £100 fine, or referral to an awareness course. Under the new rules, the upgrade of smart motorway cameras which automatically detect these violations will be expanded.
‘There is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety’
Speaking about the Action Plan, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, said he had been “greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways, and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.” The urgent stocktake of smart motorways which his department ordered has taken longer than expected.
Shapps maintains that “evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones”. However, he acknowledged that “there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety”, and asserted that the new set of measures would “ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.”
The campaign is due to launch later this year; timescales for the work are yet to be confirmed.