The Department for Transport has published an action plan to make smart motorways safer and less confusing following a number of deaths.
The package of 18 measures includes abolishing ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ motorways where the hard shoulder operates only part-time and is a live running lane the rest of the time, as well as speeding up the deployment of ‘stopped vehicle detection’, a radar-based system which spots stationary vehicles, so that it is installed across the entire smart motorway network within 36 months.
The Department for Transport said with this installed will mean that broken down drivers will typically be detected within 20 seconds with lanes closed more quickly than at present.
In addition, the distance between places to stop in an emergency will be reduced to three-quarters of a mile “where feasible”, so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be one mile, while pledged for faster attendance by more Highways England traffic officer patrols on 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.
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, said: “I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps. I envisaged it to be swift, but during the course of our investigations a complex picture emerged – which warranted further work. That work has now concluded and overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones.But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.
Responding to the announcement, Edmund King, AA president, welcomed the changes calling the measures announced “a victory for common sense and safety.”
“Today we have the commitment that moves emergency refuge area spacing from the original of 1.5 miles to three quarters (0.75) of a mile where feasible,” he said. “The fact that 38% of breakdowns happen in live lanes on smart motorways means drivers have been at risk. Tragically people have lost their lives, and in some cases coroners have indicated this could have been avoided. “No driver wants to be stuck in a live lane with nowhere to go; at best it is incredibly distressing, at worst it can be fatal.”