Smart Motorways: What Are They & Are They Safe?

This month, the government announced that the rollout of all-lane running smart motorway schemes will be postponed until a full five years of safety data is available. This is based on the Transport Committee’s inquiry, which concluded that the decision made in March 2020 to make all new motorways all-lane running was premature and based on insufficient evidence.

In this article, we explore what exactly a smart motorway is as well as the benefits and challenges they bring.

What is a Smart Motorway?

In general, the main difference between smart motorways and normal ones is that smart motorways don’t have hard shoulders. This way, traffic can utilise the additional lane to reduce congestion.

Electronic overhead signs are used to alert road users of any emergency lane closures, speed limit reductions, and any other important traffic information.

There are two main types of smart motorways without hard shoulders: all-lane running and dynamic.

All-Lane Running: All-lane running smart motorways have had their hard shoulders permanently removed to make way for moving traffic.

Dynamic: With dynamic smart motorways, the hard shoulder is only converted to the inside lane at certain times when it is required to keep the traffic moving.

Are Smart Motorways More Dangerous Than Conventional Motorways?

Whilst many road safety campaigners have spoken out about the safety of smart motorways, statistics analysed by the Department for Transport between 2015 and 2018 show that the death toll on smart motorways by traffic volume was slightly lower than on conventional motorways – this is arguably because of lower speed limits.

The reason why many people are so strongly against them is that there have been fatal accidents on smart motorways in which a hard shoulder would have saved lives. One example of this is an incident that occurred in June 2019.

On the M1 close to Sheffield, Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu were involved in a minor accident, as there was no hard shoulder, they pulled over into the left lane of the motorway to exchange details. Minutes later a lorry crashed into them at more than 50 mph, killing them both.

What Will the Government Do Whilst Safety Data is Being Collected?

Whilst the rollout of all-lane running smart motorways is paused to collect more data, Transport Secretary, Grant Schapps has said the Department for Transport will follow the recommendations to:

  • Pause the conversion of dynamic hard shoulder motorways to all lane running motorways
  • Retrofit more emergency areas across existing ALR schemes
  • Conduct an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of stopped vehicle detection technology
  • Explore the introduction of emergency corridor manoeuvre to the Highway Code
  • Investigate the benefits of health and safety assessments being undertaken by the Office of Rail and Road

Until 2025 when sufficient data has been collected, it is unknown what the future of smart motorways holds for drivers in the UK.

At Transmode Logistics, we always keep up to date with transport news and ensure our drivers are always driving as safely as possible.

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