Are Smart Motorways Safe?

Smart motorways aim is to increase capacity and reduce congestion, particularly busy areas. Vehicles can use the hard shoulder as a running lane. Using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic. The upgrades have begun on the M4 in 2018, between junctions 3 and 12. The completion date is 2022. 

The question here is are smart motorways safe? According to the hazard log data compiled by Highways England. Cars that break down on smart motorways face higher levels of danger than vehicles on traditional motorways. Breaking down in a live ALR motorway lane can be up too three times more hazardous than doing so when there’s the possibility of taking refuge on an empty hard shoulder.

If your vehicle does experience mechanical difficulties on a smart motorway, you are advised to stop at the next emergency refuge area. These are the small bays that are located off the hard shoulder. They are no more than 1.5 miles apart. If your vehicle is not able to reach an emergency refuge area (ERA) you should move onto the verge if it is safe to do so. 

The safety issue arises if a vehicle has broken down completely. Vehicles would be stuck in a live motorway lane. You would rely on being seen by stationary vehicle detection systems (SVD) or human CCTV operators. If these breakdowns are acknowledged the relevant lane will be closed to other traffic. Other drivers would be made aware that the lane is closed as an X symbol would be displayed on the gantries ahead. 

Campaigners have said there needs to be double the amount of emergency refuge areas. They have said there have been too many incidents on the motorway due to the removal of the hard shoulder. 

However, the spokesman for Highways England Max Brown said that the smart motorways were safer than the traditional motorways. ERAs are situated off the main carriageway and hard shoulder and they have protected safety barriers. Whereas on traditional motorways there are many accidents that involved vehicles driving into the back of broken-down cars. “The evidence is clear that smart motorways improve safety, with or without automatic stopped vehicle detection systems. The latest generation of smart motorways helped to improve safety by at least 25 %. Since the report, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the smart motorway system needed to be reviewed to ensure that all motorways are ‘as safe as they possibly can be’

In conclusion, it would seem that Highways England believes that the current smart motorways systems are ‘too complicated for people to use’. They have said that there were no plans to build any more smart motorways as drivers were confused about the rules on using the hard shoulder. 

Smart Motorway Speed Cameras

Many people believe that the smart motorway speed cameras are ‘always on’. Which could result in drivers being fined if they were driving 1mph over the speed limit. Highways England said ‘Safety cameras on smart motorways are set by each regional police force. It simply isn’t possible to activate or deactivate every single speed camera on the M1 or M25 at the press of a button.’ 

Drivers need to stick to the national speed limit unless a speed limit is displayed on the smart motorway. Drivers will be breaking the law if they don’t stick to this speed limit. It is important that you concentrate on the road ahead and not just on the speeds that are displayed. The speed limit that is displayed inside a red circle is legally enforceable, drivers can receive a fine. This is down to the discretion of the local police force. 

Smart motorways map

Source: Highways England

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