The installation of new safety equipment on smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder will be completed within the next five months, it has been confirmed this week.
National Highways said it was on course to upgrade almost 100 safety cameras to enable automatic detection of vehicles that ignore red X lane closure signals by the end of September. This is designed to increase compliance with the red X, helping to ensure the safety of drivers and their passengers in difficulty, or road workers and emergency services who need a safe space to work.
It was also confirmed that it will add to the more than 330 extra signs it has already installed to inform drivers of the distance to the next place to stop in the event of a mechanical problem or emergency.
In addition, National Highways is on track to complete the roll-out of radar-based technology that can spot a stopped or broken-down vehicle on over 200 miles of All Lane Running (ALR) motorway by the end of September 2022.
The commitments are made in the Smart Motorway Stocktake – Second Year Progress Report published today by National Highways. It underlines the progress made against the action plan first published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in 2020 to further improve safety and boost drivers’ confidence when using the motorway network.
In January, the Department for Transport and National Highways agreed to pause the roll-out of new ALR schemes – those yet to begin construction – until five years of safety and economic data is available. The pause will enable the Government to make informed decisions about enhancing capacity on the strategic road network. It was also announced that £390 million would be spent on new emergency areas or other places to stop in an emergency.
Smart motorways without a hard shoulder have been developed to create more space on the busiest roads – improving the flow of freight around the county and ensuring people can get where they need to be as quickly and reliably as possible, said National Highways.
They are fitted with technology and features not seen on conventional motorways such as emergency areas (EAs) set-back from the carriageway, radar-based Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) and Red X signals on gantries to close live lanes.
New in-depth analysis published as part of today’s report confirms that overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are the safest roads on the strategic road network. National Highways is continuing its work to make them the safest roads in every way. The report analysis has been carried out in line with recommendations from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
It also indicates that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on ALR and Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways – where the hard shoulder operates only part-time – than conventional motorways.
Some drivers and our stakeholders continue to raise concerns about smart motorways and, in particular, the risk of breaking down in a live lane. A very small proportion of total journeys on any road result in live lane breakdowns. National Highways recognises this is the main concern drivers have about smart motorways. While most of these breakdowns do not lead to serious or fatal casualties, it can affect how people feel. So National Highways is taking steps to address this.
Furthermore, National Highways acknowledges research suggesting drivers’ confidence is higher when travelling on dual carriageways and major A-roads than on smart motorways. This is despite the comparatively reduced risk of travelling on smart motorways. In response, National Highways sets out how it is giving more clarity to drivers so that they can feel safer on these roads.
The report shows that National Highways continues to make progress in the roll-out of other safety features that had previously been promised as part of the stocktake and funded with a £500 million investment. It says that as of mid-April 2022 National Highways had:
- Upgraded 96% (92 out of 95) of enforcement cameras on smart motorways so they can be used to automatically detect vehicles passing under a Red X or entering a lane beyond a Red X. This potentially allows police to issue £100 fines to drivers without having to spot them in the act, as was the case previously;
- Installed more than 330 additional signs to better inform drivers of the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency. By the end of September 2022 drivers will almost always be able to see a sign informing them of the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency;
- Worked to put SVD technology in place on more than 100 miles of ALR smart motorways. The technology is able to send alerts to National Highways’ control rooms which are then investigated by its operators.
The report also confirms that National Highways is on course to meet the accelerated timetable – first published last year – to complete the roll-out of this safety equipment and technology by the end of September 2022.
This means that within the next five months all 95 enforcement cameras will have been upgraded to enable increased compliance with Red X signals and the SVD roll-out on ALR stretches will be completed.
These target dates, first set out in the 2021 stocktake progress report, were between six and 10 months earlier than previously planned.
Nick Harris, National Highways’ Chief Executive, said: “Our network is relied upon by an ever-increasing number of people to work, visit family and friends, do business and much more. It is only right that these drivers and their passengers are safe and, crucially, feel safe on our roads, including smart motorways.
“It is now two years since the Transport Secretary first published the smart motorway stocktake and today’s report shows that we are making good progress delivering on these ambitious recommendations. But we are not complacent.
“The latest data shows that, overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are our safest roads. We are continuing our work to make them our safest roads in every way. We will continue to build on the work already undertaken and continue to put safety first to help ensure drivers have confidence in the motorway network.”
Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “We have come a long way in the two years since the smart motorway evidence stocktake and action plan was published. We took the decision to pause the rollout of new smart motorways earlier this year to collect more data and have upgraded hundreds of miles of roads with enforcement cameras, stopped vehicle detection and better signage.
“This progress report shows we continue to make good progress delivering our commitments, including the installation of new safety equipment within the next five months. However, there should be no upper limit on the safety of our roads which is why I, alongside the Transport Secretary, will continue to do everything I can to ensure drivers are as safe and feel as safe as they possibly can.”
Independent road safety campaigner Meera Naran MBE said: “I welcome this second-year report which includes open and transparent data. It’s important that reporting of all incidents has also been taken into consideration. Even more precise data including which lane collisions occur in, would be beneficial going forward.
“Smart motorway safety could be enhanced further with in-vehicle technology such as compulsory autonomous emergency braking, Dev’s Law. This technology could prevent further collisions and fatalities.”