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5th August 2021

The future of smart motorways

Smart motorways have been the subject of much debate in recent months, with many bringing into question just how safe are these roads. This criticism by motoring organisations and the emergency services, follows a number of incidents on smart motorways since their introduction.

smart motorways

What are smart motorways?

Smart motorways have been introduced to UK roads in an effort to reduce congestion. These roads use technology to monitor traffic conditions and adapting in line with the volume of traffic on the roads. This is done in a number of ways including, adjusting speed limits, alerting drivers to upcoming hazards and closing lanes entirely during emergencies; achieved by signalling changes on illuminated boards above each lane.

Some smart motorways will allow the use of the hard shoulder during congestion, whilst others have seen the removal of the hard shoulder entirely in place of an additional lane. Highways England has stated that these roads are ‘often safer’.

What safety issues have come to light?

Many have refuted Highways England’s stance on smart motorways being safer than traditional roads. One of the main issues coming into focus, is the fact that drivers are being forced to stop in live lines, due to the fact that there is simply nowhere else to go.

An inquiry took place in mid-May, regarding the Government’s right to continue smart motorway roll-out and to assess the performance of smart motorway upgrades that have been completed. President of the AA, Edmund King, commented during the inquiry:

“People have died because they’ve stopped in live lines because there was nowhere to go… No matter how good the radar technology is, you are still at risk.”

Shockingly, the inquiry also heard findings from a Highways England report, that had found it takes an average of 17 minutes to spot a break down in a live lane currently.

What does the future hold for these motorways?

There have been numerous calls for smart motorway plans to be scrapped throughout the UK due to the safety concerns raised, and in April the Government announced that there would be no new ‘all lane running’ smart motorways would be opened without the appropriate radar technology to detect broken down vehicles in live lines quickly. Existing smart motorways will have upgrades to this technology brought forward to September next year.

What are your thoughts on smart motorways? We’d love to hear your thoughts on LinkedIn.