Smart motorways are safe ‘in most ways’ as, or safer than, conventional ones, but not in every way, says HE

Smart motorways are in ‘most ways’ safe as or safer than the conventional ones-but not in every way, according to Highways England.

The organisation also said as part of its smart-motorways-stocktake-first-year-progress-report-2021, that converting parts of smart motorways back to a hard shoulder, would reduce their capacity by a quarter.

“The resulting congestion on the motorways would cause significant numbers of drivers to divert to far less safe roads, increasing the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on our nation’s roads overall. It would almost certainly increase overall danger, not reduce it.”

HE said the figures on safety of samrt motorways have been compiled on a five-year basis (2015-19 inclusive), because singleyear figures are too low and variable to draw consistent conclusions from. For the year
2019, the total number of deaths on all motorways was 85, of which 15 were on ALR and Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running (DHS) motorways.

This was a rise of four since 2018, reflecting in part the increase in traffic on the motorway network generally and on these roads in particular. We will continue to monitor and evaluate safety on our network, said the report.

The 2020 Stocktake found, collisions between a moving vehicle and a stopped vehicle are more likely on ALR and DHS motorways. But collisions between two or more moving vehicles – which is how more people die – are less likely. Technology introduced on smart motorways regulates speeds more safely, said the report.

It went on to say that technology, in the form of stopped vehicle detection, can also reduce the risk of collision between a moving vehicle and a stopped vehicle. “So we are continuing to roll out this technology, too – and faster than we previously planned,” said HE.

The report said that smart motorways have greatly increased the capacity of the country’s most important roads, and therefore provide more space for drivers who would otherwise be on less safe
roads. “They reduce congestion, make journeys smoother and support the economy; doing so in a way that has a reduced impact on the environment.
But we want all drivers to both be safe and feel safe when driving on them. Through the commitments we are making to accelerate measures we are determined to further reduce the number of casualties on our high-speed road network, improve public confidence in our smart motorways, and to continue to build and operate one of the safest and best
performing road networks in the world,” it said.

Speaking in his foreword in the report, Nick Harris, Acting Chief Executive said: “Every road death is a tragedy, and we are determined to reduce the number of fatal incidents, and injuries, on our roads. That includes on smart motorways.

“All road journeys involve risk, but the chance of death on smart motorways is less than on any other major road. It is less than on conventional motorways, and it is far less than on any strategic road network A-road. But that does not mean that we do not need to do more. We accept drivers want to know more about what driving on motorways without a hard shoulder means for their safety. They deserve to understand what we are doing to help keep them safe and what new technologies can be deployed to assist if things go wrong. I want the organisation I lead to continue to be one that listens, puts the needs of drivers first and helps drivers feel safe and be safer.”

The full report can be read here: Smart motorways stocktake, First year progress report 2021 (


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