Highways England launches £5m safety campaign following rise in smart motorway deaths

Published 15 March 2021

Following strong criticism and multiple deaths on smart motorways, Highways England has launched a multi-million-pound advertising campaign to encourage drivers to ‘Go Left’ and pull over safely if they break down on a smart motorway.

Highways England is setting out what drivers should do if they encounter problems with their vehicle on a smart motorway – go left. The £5 million campaign is being supported by partners across the recovery industry and independent road safety campaigner Meera Naran, following the tragic death of her eight-year-old son Dev on the M6.

Set to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West song, the television advert delivers a clear message to pull over (to the left) into an Emergency Zone and wait for recovery away from your car.

The death toll on smart motorways has surged to a record, according to figures held back from publication by the Department of Transport (DfT) - according to a report by The Times in February 2021.

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There were 15 fatalities in 2019 on motorways where hard shoulders operate as full-time or part-time traffic lanes, according to data collected by the DfT but not published in its annual report on road casualties. There were 11 deaths in 2018 and five in 2017.

The majority of smart motorways are designed to relieve congestion by making the hard shoulder available for the use of traffic. They’re claimed to increase capacity for much less than it would cost in both financial and environmental terms to add a physical extra lane to an existing motorway.

The traffic on smart motorways is monitored via cameras and sensors and is controlled by displayed variable speed limits. However, drivers continue to be confused by the roads and a startling number of 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.

In fact, a Green Flag poll in October 2020 revealed that just 48 per cent of motorists know how to use a smart motorway. The same research also found that a quarter of drivers don't even know what a smart motorway is.

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Transport secretary Grant Shapps has previously criticised smart motorways but has so far ruled out their removal. Earlier this year, Shapps said: “A lot of people say, ‘Just undo it’, and I have looked at that. It would require the equivalent land for 700 Wembley stadium-sized football pitches to somehow undo it all. We would have to buy people’s homes and destroy acres of green belt. I do not see that there is a route through to simply undoing it. We have to make what is there safe.”

Highways England Acting Chief Executive, Nick Harris, said: “Everyone wants a safe journey and raising awareness is a vital part of helping to make sure that happens. This campaign is just one of the many steps we are taking to invest in our network with safety as our number one priority, doing everything we can to help drivers feel confident on our motorways.”


Stormy.    on 15 March 2021

What utter, utter rubbish Grant Shapps is talking. Doing away with the hard shoulder on motorways is madness. GO LEFT is the advice, go left to WHERE? I drive a fairly modern car (18 plate) but the thought of having to make an emergency stop on one of these death-trap motorways terrifies me. I have been driving for over 60 years and this idea of "smart motorways" is the most ridiculous idea ever. Her's a suggestion, Mr Shapps, drive on to a "smart motorway" and stop in the left-hand lane, or "go left" and see how you survive.

Brian Robinson.

Harrovian    on 15 March 2021

As Stormy says, go left to where, into the lane used by HGVs with foreign drivers and sometimes dubious habits.
The whole concept is flawed and was ill conceived, Smart motorways are anything but smart.

bobber    on 15 March 2021

Just total madness. Anything further to add would just be expletives aimed at the numbskulls who thought up the idea of "smart" motorways (and "smart" meters, for that matter).

Michael Baybutt    on 15 March 2021

In order to "go left", there has to be somewhere on your left to "go" to! For some reason, not all cars are well-mannered enough to only break down where there is either a refuge or junction. Now who could have foreseen that?

Martin Johnson    on 15 March 2021

These supposedly 'smart' motorways are nothing of the sort. As a motorcyclist i am in fear of breaking down away from one of the 'safe' layby's and that keeps me off them unless i am desperate. Whoever thought of this idea should be prosecuted for uneccessary fatalities. As a previous contributor said, Mr Schapps should try stopping in the laft lane away from a refuge and see how his nerves are, if he survives.

Les Boris    on 15 March 2021

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. These are none of them, but illfounded money saving ideas, spending a percentage of our road tax would solve this.

johnt71    on 15 March 2021

It’s totally outrageous to have these smart motorways imposed upon us. They are a clear danger to life and should be ripped up. I’d rather suffer a congested motorway than face possible death or if I’m lucky serious injury! I broke down on the M6 3 years ago and I was able to pull over to the hard shoulder and that was hard enough to navigate to that position. Even in that situation I was frightened for my life as the HGVs etc storm past at 56 mph. I scrambled across the passenger seat to get out finding that the passenger door was restricted by the barrier. I made it eventually and crossed the Armco to safety but as I say a frightening experience. We seem to be good at raising concerns in this country but no effective action has been taken to ban the proposed extension of smart lanes and rip up the existing ones. I would ask Mr Shapps to be a passenger in a car that simulates a breakdown from the 2nd or 3rd lane and test his nerve. I wish him no harm of course but he needs to realise the danger.

deepdale56    on 15 March 2021

Three points of context :
1 Motorways are by far the safest type of road and ‘smart’ motorways are marginally safer than ‘standard’ motorways
2 Even with the (in overall road deaths terms) slight increase in deaths on ‘smart’ motorways, the total is a very small proportion of all road deaths
3 How are ‘smart’ motorways different from the thousands of miles of 70mph dual carriageways with no hard shoulder?
I’m all for reducing our (by international standards) low rate of road deaths, but let’s spend the limited resources where they will have most impact.
There is a danger of being influenced by emotive publicity campaigns rather than hard facts.

Bylane Bill    on 22 March 2021

Do hope you and your family/friends never break down on a 'smart' motorway then. Expect you wont think its such a good idea, especially if your car cant make it to a refuge and your stuck in the way of thundering juggernaut!

aethelwulf    on 15 March 2021

The fact is that to mandarins, that make decisions that run our country, a few deaths a year are collateral damage to the wonderful claims that they can make by increasing the speed of the average journey.
The few suffer for the many.
It will NEVER change. Same mentality ( perhaps related?) to WW1 generals sending men over the top ,for no gain in that case but they thought so.

deepdale56    on 15 March 2021

An example of ‘emotive’.

   on 15 March 2021

Smart motorways are very dangerous and I will not drive on them under any circumstances. I have contacted Highway England about them and, guess what, I received a formulaic response from a script that didnt address any of my issues issues at all. The obsession now is reducing the gap between the emergency refuges but that misses the point completely. If the distance is reduced to, say, 200 yards( highly unlikely) and you or a passenger have reduced mobility how are you supposed to get there safely? ANY distance between refuges is unsafe; period. When hard shoulders are removed safety is impinged every time. The hard shoulders are there for a purpose, to save lives, they should not be converted into running lanes. I was told that these motorways work safely in Europe but no evidence was supplied. The UK was in the EU when these foolish death traps were started and I have no doubt that pressure was exerted by the EU to get these deathtraps adopted in the name of standardisation. A complete ban on building any more should be introduced NOW and the motoring public need to be listened to for a change. Politicians like Grant Shapps need to stop prevaricating, admit they got this dreadfully wrong and show they care about the unnecessary loss of life.

Alan Goss    on 15 March 2021

They would do better to admit they got it wrong and put the 'millions' into correcting the mistake and bringing back the hard shoulder.

Max Klein    on 16 March 2021

On a hard shoulder your broken-down car is pretty much out of harm's way. On a "smart" motorway, your broken-down car, having "gone left" remains in harm's way. Removing the refuge of the hard shoulder wasn't "smart". One can live with traffic congestion. One dies on the inside lane of "smart" motorways, unable to remove oneself from the moving traffic. These inside lanes should be converted to hard shoulder use without delay, separated from the other lanes using rumble strips or catseye to discourage traffic from straying into them.

Dave Rhodes    on 16 March 2021

We should start a petition to have these death traps removed

Graham Webber    on 16 March 2021

Perhaps if they increased the number of refuges and made sure that there was a public footpath on the safe side of the traffic barrier between the safe areas, we might find an economic and safer solution to the problem?

Graham Webber

hissingsid    on 16 March 2021

It is not just a question of mechanical breakdowns. Any car regardless of age and maintenance can suffer a puncture from the debris which accumulates on the road, and if that puncture is on an off side tyre the consequences do not bear thinking about.

I never have and never will use a so called "Smart" motorway.

   on 16 March 2021

I believe that for the majority of the time "Smart Motorways" are a great benefit in keeping traffic moving as I have seen on the M3 in the mornings. However I have no doubt that they are less safe than a proper motorway and unless or until such time as technology can provide a much safer solution they should be demoted from being motorways as they no longer have the hard shoulder.

Allan Hillman    on 16 March 2021

I note at the end of the advertisement, just after you are told to exit via the passenger door, that the "flies" die - are they trying to tell us something!

   on 16 March 2021

I was obliged to pull into one of the (very short) rescue areas when pulling my motorcycle trailer with an Audi A1. No problem with that. I then realised there is no run out" area to enable me to build up any sort of speed to exit it. With wagons passing by at around 60mph less than 50 yards apart, I waited 20 minutes building up the courage to dash out - as best I could. It was terrifying.

tall and hairy    on 16 March 2021

I'm not a fan of smart motorways either, but bid you use an emergency phone to ask control to stop the flow of traffic in the inside lane? You are never more than half a mile away from one and I'd be surprised if one wasn't deliberately situated in the refuge.

philthunder    on 16 March 2021

There are supposed to be traffic cameras that alert the authorities to close the lane. Tough luck if the chap monitoring them, is having a break!

Total madness not having an emergency shoulder, but then so is allowing the population to get out of hand. No one hardly dare mention that !

David Ireland    on 16 March 2021

Bad thinking and bad design in these motorways. Refuges are too far apart; the eletric equipment to pick up a stranded car can take an inordinate amount of time to do so and then switch off the lane.
Digging out extra refuges is problematical but any new ones should have refuges no further than 1/2 mile/800m apart and they should be longer. An initial solution would be to put (smart!) electronic monitors every few hundred yards at the side of the road to pick up flashing hazard lights and a lack of movement.
Following on from Mr Hillman above, I noticed last time I passed junction 7 (M3) on the M25 heading west that there was a refuge there. It was extremely short, probably inadequate for two vehicles, and it was on an upward incline. I remarked at the time that it would be very difficult to get up speed to get out of there at such a busy bit of road.

CotswoldLad    on 16 March 2021

As well as removing the only safe refuge strip in an emergency, could the non-smart conversion of hard shoulders into running-lanes also be a ploy to discourage motorists who appreciate its obvious dangers from entering the motorway? I have yet to see a better example of a costly, highly disruptive motorway scheme that purports to reduce driver-stress and improve health and safety on our fastest roads that does exactly the opposite.

nigel drew    on 16 March 2021

Until motorists know - with total certainty - that their vehicle will not break down or get a puncture, these so-called Smart motorways will continue the work of the grim reaper ! It is utter madness to have deliberately created such a situation since breakdowns can occur anywhere and, Murphy's Law, the so-called refuge areas will never be where they are wanted in an emergency !

While no doubt the average driver is both physically and mentally alert enough to have a reasonable chance of making it to the barrier and hopping over, no thought has been given to the breakdowns involving vehicles with physically impaired occupants - a mum and her kids, an elderly and possibly immobile person or those with sight impairment. Their escape route is well and truly compromised !

Clearly the Smart lane must go and Minister Shapps is failing in his duty if he refuses to act accordingly. Such tiny benefit as might be argued to accrue from their continued existence is not worth the pain for those who find themselves imperilled, let alone killed in such horrific circumstances.

Gary Hewitt    on 16 March 2021

What a waste of the extra £5m of OUR money, handed to Highways England to try to browbeat us into believing that All Lane Running Smart Motorways are anything other than death traps. The very name is (quite rightly) toxic, and the theft of our hard shoulder will never, ever be accepted by the British motoring public. Sadly, more will die needlessly before Shapps or, more likely, his replacement sees sense, does the right thing and instructs Highways England to permanently close the new left lane, instantly restoring our lifeline, cost-free. Please make your feelings known to the Transport Select Committee, who are currently investigating this fatally-flawed scheme. Every voice will help to rid our country of All Lane Running Smart Motorways, and make motoring safer for everyone. Cheers.


Dan Clelland    on 16 March 2021

Instead of spending 5 million pounds on a campaign to try to put the blame on motorists, I have a far cheaper and simpler solution. Press the button that puts the red cross on the inside lane and leave it there permanently. Let motorists only use it for breakdowns and emergency. Problem solved!

alan jones    on 16 March 2021

Dan Cleland has the right idea to solve the problem of these utter deathtraps.His free solution is to press the button that closes the inside lane and leave them on displaying the lane closed cross

   on 16 March 2021

Why would "It would require the equivalent land for 700 Wembley stadium-sized football pitches to somehow undo it all"

Just make the inside lane a hard-shoulder again, and if it results in more traffic hold-ups in peak time so be it. Better to arrive late than not arrive at all.

Smart motorways are just dangerous and the government and Highways England know this but can't admit that they've wasted vast amounts of money to make these roads more dangerous than they were before.

Fred Mason    on 16 March 2021

I spent many, many years on Heavy and Light Accident & Recovery, during those years we had quite a few close calls ourselves, I've been called out to quite a few who had been hit by other cars and trucks while broken down on the hard shoulder. These so-called "Smart Motorways" whoever came up with this idea are not so "Smart" as they think, they are not "Smart Motorways" they are death traps just waiting to happen. It just goes to show that there IS a "Price on someone's life"... Fire

, Police and Ambulances won't be able to get to bad accidents either. I personally will avoid them like the plague... Take care and stay safe. Kindest Regards, Fred.

Edited by Fred Mason on 16/03/2021 at 15:56

Arthur C Jenner    on 16 March 2021

A J Sign me up for the job to press the X BUTTON

   on 16 March 2021

What is £5M to a Government spending money like water? Another total waste of money! "We have to make what is there safe." Guess what Grant, you never will, however much you spend of our money! Smart motorways - a completely stupid idea from the start. I would like to know all those who have made money from constructing smart motorways, and of course, all those making money out of a safety campaign that will achieve nothing. Convert the inside lane back to a safety lane and put up with slightly increased congestion which will probably prove less than the congestion caused by smart accidents. There must be a public inquiry into who came up with this most obviously idiotic idea and those that have benefited financially, and be held accountable.

conman    on 17 March 2021

sign up to stop the Smart Motorways --- petition


only 445 signatures and expires in April

Vernon Skuntamo    on 17 March 2021

Just undoing it would not need the equivalent land for 700 Wembley stadium-sized football pitches.
It would involve changing lane one into a hard shoulder and changing the signs.

   on 17 March 2021

The "keep left" slogan insults our intelligence. If you start to have a immediate loss of power and are not adjacent to a refuge, you obviously pull over to the nearside kerb but this is where the real issue arises.
ALL motorways now hane an Armco crash barrier immediately behind the kerb so it is impossible to get out of the vehicle on that side. The driver and all the occupants have to further risk their lives by exiting onto a 70 mph lane of traffic ,absolute madness.
I have witnessed a very near miss in that very situation and will now only use the second lane as standard so negating the "SMART" altogether. Perhaps the £5M should be spent on better cameras and more frequent refuges or better still, ask Mr Shapps to stop on the inside lane and see if he now feels safe (as he expects us to)
I have also been stuck on the M25 and witness the emergency services trying to access a situation when all the lanes are now stationary - chaos at 1 or 2 miles an hour, perhaps Mr Shapps can explain to the ambulance and fire crews how the "Smart" bit works as they have now also got to do their work along with the victim in a 70mph lane which is illegal for the rest of us to even walk in at any time quite sensibly)
Stay safe (and never use the inside lane)

conman    on 19 March 2021

We are living in a world where our heads of government and CEO of manufacturing must be so removed from reality it's unbelievable.

We have politicians that believe that SMART motorways are safe and converting more.

And heads of motorcar manufacturers that think the Keyless entry is secure.

The trouble with their decisions is that it is Joe public that pays the price.

batterseamike    on 19 March 2021

There are two major problems with the "smart" motorway.
The first is the stupidity of drivers not understanding the very clear gantry instructions.
The second is the miles of barriers erected at the side of the motorway preventing vehicles unable to reach refuge to mount the kerb and reduce the possibility of being driven into.
Hard shoulder breakdowns were just as often hit by inattentive drivers as they are on the smart motorway.
Grass verges instead of barriers would be helpful but more importantly drivers should be more aware and look further than one car ahead.

Peter Bloxham    on 19 March 2021

"Go Left"!!!!
What b******s......break down, go left, only to find no hard shoulder or safe area to pull off the main carriageway..........and that is supposed to be safety?
Who are these goons that make these decisions.
I avoid "smart" motorways whenever possible.

   on 20 March 2021

Just seen the latest pictures of Hyundai's Kona. The idea of the driver climbing over the "transmission tunnel" to the passenger side to exit the vehicle means anyone over 25 should forget it and write a quick will. Dreadful!

Bylane Bill    on 22 March 2021

Why dont we all make a unilateral decision to withhold 25% of our road tax as making decisions without thought or consultation seems to be the order of the day! The suits who came up with this madness should be charged with manslaughter in my opinion!

Southern Tyke    on 24 March 2021

I have a daughter who is back driving after a year in hospital some years ago - she was a rear seat passenger when the car she was in was "T" boned - it broke her neck. She now drives with hand controls. Her use of "Smart" motorways frightens me because if her car stops for whatever reason, she cannot get out as she is paralysed from the waist down so will have to sit there waiting for a lorry to hit her and snap her neck again which will kill her. I have written to Shapps and others but just get a standard brush off letter. These roads are a death trap and should be put back to hard shoulder operation whatever the cost.
Southern Tyke

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