Smart Motorway All Lane Running shows 'a shocking degree of carelessness'

Published 28 January 2020

The expansion of All Lane Running on the Smart Motorway network in England ‘has been conducted with a shocking degree of carelessness’, according to damning report by a cross-party group of MPs.

Thirty-eight people have been killed on Smart Motorways over the past five years, with one section of the M25 seeing a 20-fold increase in the number of potentially fatal “near misses” involving stationary vehicles since the hard shoulder was removed in 2014, according to an investigation by BBC Panorama. 

Now a report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Roadside Rescue and Recovery has accused Highways England of not having the essential systems in place to respond to live lane breakdowns and ensure the safety of motorists.

The report accuses Highways England of taking an 'on-the-hoof' approach to All Lane Running motorways and failing to fulfil its 2016 commitment to fit Stopped Vehicle Detection technology.

The life-saving radar tech automatically closes a live lane when a breakdown is detected, but it is only fitted to a few sections of the M25. It's thought that it will take up to three-years to retrofit the radar system to all 400-miles of the Smart Motorway network. 

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Official figures show that 38 per cent of breakdowns occur in a live lane on a Smart Motorway, compared to 20 per cent on traditional motorways with a hard shoulder. 

MPs want the number of emergency refuge areas to be doubled on all existing stretches of Smart Motorways that employ All Lane Running so the spacing is no more than 800 metres between any two areas. Highways England has also been instructed to increase the number of patrols and lower the average reponse time, which currently stands at 17 minutes 43 seconds.

During 2017 and 2018 there were almost 20,000 vehicle breakdowns in live lanes on Smart Motorways. In October 2019 the chief executive of Highways England Jim O' Sullivan told the Commons Transport Select Committee that the expansion of the network had been halted, because drivers found the layout too complicated to understand.

A Highways England spokesperson said: “Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives.

“The Transport Secretary has asked the Department for Transport to carry out, at pace, an evidence stocktake to gather the facts about smart motorway safety. We are committed to safety and are supporting the Department in its work on this.”


Devon Dan    on 27 January 2020

How about trialling a lower speed limit for the near side lane of smart motorways - 40,50mph? Could be flagged easily on overhead gantries, and would reduce closing speed to stopped vehicles, and give drivers more time to stop or change lane. If speed differential between lanes was a problem, why not put a 60 mph limit on the 2nd lane, then the normal 70 limit on the outer two.

That said, as they are they are a death trap. Just talk to any traffic cop or ambulance driver...

Edited by Devon Dan on 27/01/2020 at 20:51

dj_efk    on 29 January 2020

Agree on the concept but in practice having different speed limits for different lanes is not going to be adopted.

My view is the hard shoulder lane should only be live when really needed - i.e. when the traffic is so heavy that a 30 or perhaps 40 mph limit is in place for all lanes - While we wait for better safety management and facilities.

I for one would not want to have to stop on a smart motorway when the hard shoulder is live under any circumstance - It must be terrifying.

DeadBat    on 29 January 2020

Agree, this seems the best option that can be fairly quickly adopted. Keep lane 1 closed and use as a hard shoulder and traffic can travel on other lanes.

DeadBat    on 29 January 2020

@Devon Dan Although I like your idea you forget that your idea requires strict lane discipline which I think we all know does not exist at the moment. Only a couple of days ago on my evening drive to London I had to move to lane 4 on M25 to overtake a private hire car which was in lane 3 (lanes 1 & 2 were empty). Then same thing on M11 going south.

jaguarR    on 29 January 2020

Ministers approved these changes to motorways on the basis of a refuge area every 5-600 meters. Somebody in Dep for Transport decided to increase this interval by a significant amount without telling, or seeking approval, from Ministers. That person should be held to account and prosecuted for misfeasance in public office. If that occurred then, it is standard government policy for anybody so prosecuted to be held personally liable for any subsequent damages.

   on 29 January 2020

If I were unfortunate enough to break down on a so called "Smart Motorway" I would attemp to stop in the fast lane and not on the original hard shoulder.
My reasoning is that there are will be no HGVs and following traffic is more likely to be paying attention!
I would also get the hell out of the car as soon as possible PDQ!

sherwenator    on 29 January 2020

seems to me ,,,that we need more lanes on motorways bite the bullet and buy the land to make more lanes think of interstate highways in USA

tryitandsee    on 2 February 2020

The gap between safe area's should be determined by how far the car can freewheel from say an average speed of 50 mph. Adjustments to that should take into account steep inclines, as going up hill to reach your safe area freewheeling, the distance covered would be seriously short.

Better still, keep the motorway as it was.

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