Highways England doubles down on smart motorway safety

Published 22 April 2021

Highways England has doubled down on smart motorway safety, claiming that converting All Lane Running (ALR) smart motorways back to conventional motorways would increase congestion and, thus, lead to a rise in the number of those killed in road collisions.

In its smart motorways stocktake first year progress report, Highways England says that the return of hard shoulders would increase congestion, meaning drivers would opt to divert to less safe roads and lead to more accidents.

The report claims: "While some have suggested changes, for example converting a smart motorway live traffic lane back to a hard shoulder, this would reduce their capacity by a quarter [...] It would almost certainly increase overall danger, not reduce it."

In an effort to increase public confidence in smart motorways, no further all-lane-running (ALR) motorways will be allowed to open without radar technology to spot stopped vehicles, says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Highways England also said that fatality rates on ALR motorways were lower than on any other type of UK road. It notes that ALR motorways have a fatal casualty rate of 0.12 per hundred million vehicle miles, compared with 0.16 for conventional motorways.

Motorway At Dusk 

Highways England has taken further steps to improve the safety of smart motorways without hard shoulders, also called All Lane Running (ALR) motorways — including banning such motorways from opening if they lack the technology to detect stopped vehicles.

Shapps said that the radar technology needed (stopped vehicle detection) will be rolled out on all operational ALR roads by September 2022, six months earlier than planned. At the same time, Highways England is upgrading the nation’s smart motorway cameras to enable them to detect cars driving in closed lanes, so-called ‘red X’ violations — which can be enforced by the police.

These latest steps build on measures set out in a Stocktake Report on Smart Motorways in March 2020, which comprised an 18-point action plan, including camera improvements and a £5 million advertising campaign to warn drivers about smart motorway etiquette.

Despite the reassurance that smart motorways are ‘safer’ than traditional motorways, a recent IAM members poll shows that over 80 per cent feel less safe on a smart motorway.

Tony Greenidge, IAM RoadSmart CEO, said: “Our survey results have given us a strong platform with which to work in partnership with Highways England and Department of Transport to help increase confidence among motorway users.

"We believe that high quality and frequent education is needed to deliver ongoing reassurance to drivers and riders. A new education course and swift penalties for those drivers who put others at risk is also being proposed, to be effective this must be backed up by more traffic police to ensure the new powers are used. The plans to automatically enforce Red X violations from 2022 are much needed.”


Ian Tyne    on 22 April 2021

Returning hard shoulders to smart motorways, headline should be other way around!

aethelwulf    on 22 April 2021

So, as I expected/predicted the answer is motorists are expendable. Just like the at Somme in July 1916. Throw a few more in and it is in the interest of all the rest ( who get a speedy journey), that a few get killed.
The civil servants would never admit failure even when criticised by coroners. The road builders love the ALR as it is all development and profit to them.
You never feel safe on these ALR in my opinion compared to the old days of pulling off to change a wheel on the hard shoulder , although I have had to do that only once in my 56 years of driving.

Charlie Edwards    on 22 April 2021

Real reality of ALR - IT is huge revenue stream to pay for Mway maintenance which successive Gvts have continually put off as volume of cars in last 20 yrs with £100 a month leasing gives ALL chance to own a vehicle or van - result MASSIVE CONGESTION

Gary Hewitt    on 22 April 2021

I'm looking forward to the Commons Select Committee's report and recommendations on this subject, and sincerely hope that the government don't just pay lip service to it, as they did to the last report in 2016. The Select Committee has received evidence and opinion from right across the motoring spectrum, from the REAL experts, and I am confident that their findings will be much more accurate and appropriate than the questionable "evidence" produced by Highways England. No amount of tinkering can make ALR Smart Motorways safe or fit for purpose, and only the return of a permanent, dedicated and continuous hard shoulder will restore both safety and public confidence.

mikewiththemmtyaris    on 22 April 2021

They need to fine aggressive drivers and lane hoggers alike and ban them from smart motorways .Maybe we could all travel safely .

sixcylinder    on 22 April 2021

Smart motorways?
They should be renamed "cheap skate motorways".

Our motto in the UK for years now has been " build down to a price, not up to a quality".

The exact opposite of German road engineering.

WilliamRead    on 22 April 2021

Can the DfT list those European and other countries that have tested and used "Smart Motorways" in the past, and use them today? Are there any such countries?

DaveT007    on 22 April 2021

If you travel in Northern Italy they have hard shoulders AND lay-bys every 500m on their autoroutes. That's what we should have. End of story.

batterseamike    on 22 April 2021

There are autobahns in Germany with no speed limit and only two lanes that work perfectly well because drivers follow the rules.
We need to weed out the i****s that cause the problems with their inept and selfish driving.
Lets get more police that deal exclusively with traffic, have on the spot fines with car confiscation if not paid.
I can drive from London to Edinburgh and not see a single police vehicle. No wonder driving manners have vanished!
Stop winging about the roads and deal with the drivers!

conman    on 23 April 2021

The answer is not to convert the new lanes back to hard shoulders but where it is possible extend the emergency laybys as far as they can some could be up to 1/2 mile long . Looking at these Smart Motorways there are very few places they could not fit a hard shoulder ( emergency layby) as there is plenty of room.

Also did you know that if you stop in a Emergency area because they are so short you cannot get up enough speed to safely re enter the motorway at a decent speed. So you should use the phone contact the people on the other end and they will send a Police car to escort you safely back onto the motorway. Amazing all they had to do was not build them so short in the first place. We are being governed by i****s.

TedTom    on 24 April 2021

Good point. One death on a not so smart motorway, is a death too many.

Paul Jenkinz    on 23 April 2021

Smart motorways which i**** gave them that title more like killer motorways bring back the hard shoulders immediately you m****s

David Milton Keynes    on 23 April 2021

perhaps the commons select committee should spend a day actually driving up and down on one of these so called SMART motorways and then they would see for themselves the danger of them. They should ask the police and emergency service workers and breakdown recovery drivers what they think and spend time with them as well and find out what its like.

george easton    on 23 April 2021

The ONLY way as i see it to get the Hard shoulder reinstated . When a death happens due to no hard shoulder , would be, NOT to sue highways England but to sue individual bosses or the MPs who are involved in this MURDEROUS SCHEME .
That way it should really get their attention focused !

paul mack    on 24 April 2021

Totally agree with you George,
This Government and its so called ‘Secretary’s’ (in this case Shapps) have no idea on how things operate in the real world.
Despite TOO many deaths along with PROOF of MISTAKES by those supposedly keeping us, the motorist safe, you get i****s such as Shapps coming out with claptrap on how safe these Smart Motorways are (NOT).
Shapps says he will not allow anymore Smart Lanes until they all have the ‘technology’ to KEEP US SAFE.
It matters not one jot how clever the technology is, it just takes one operator to lapse in their attention and by then it’s too late for some poor person/s and family.
What happens with emergency vehicles wanting to attend an accident, how does that work?
As with many things in this country, real life is ignored by those who THINK they know better.
IE Government and its MP’s.

What i**** came up with the conclusion that MORE people will die on motorways WITH a HARD SHOULDER?
It beggars belief that we have such fools making decisions that can only end in more tragedy.

As it’s been said by SO MANY common sense people, these ALR’s are TRULY DANGEROUS and should be reinstated with a HARD SHOULDER.
Wake up Mr Shapps

jchinuk    on 23 April 2021

The report claims: "While some have suggested changes, for example converting a smart motorway live traffic lane back to a hard shoulder, this would reduce their capacity by a quarter [...] It would almost certainly increase overall danger, not reduce it."

Unless the report can back that opinion up with some research, it just remains an opinion.

It is obvious that many drivers are unhappy with the concept of "no hard shoulder", which could be re-named "nowhere to go in an emergency".

From what I have observed, both in a car and in the media, even the old hard shoulders are insufficient to be safe at all times, people regularly got killed or injured there anyway.

Ernie durling    on 23 April 2021

I drive a wav vehicle (wheel chair access vehicle) and don’t use smart motorways as my wife sits in wheelchair in rear and I wouldn’t be able to get her out and to safety to dangerous

Martin Emm    on 23 April 2021

Unless the radar detection technology provides instant lane closure after a vehicle is topped in lane 1, deaths will still occur. The hard shoulder provided instant relief / reasonable safety from stopping in a live lane. I would be amazed if any technology could provide immediate safety that was previously provided.

Do any other European countries have roads classified as motorways without a safety lane ?

DLDLDL    on 25 April 2021

Radar detection technology might (might) stop the traffic before a bad situation gets catastrophic, but without a hard should it is very hard for emergency and breakdown services to access the incident.

But why should a conservative minister care?

Martin Walker    on 23 April 2021

There's nothing smart about smart motorways. They are dangerous and cause unavoidable deaths had they not been introduced. Highways England is not fit for purpose and is typical of a government agency in the times we are living in. It's horrendous that families have lost their loved ones.

John of Gloster    on 23 April 2021

100% agreed Martin.

So called smart Motorways are so very typical of those with the Public Sector "The taxpayer will provide" mindset getting so many of the important decisions ... WRONG. They regard those many like you and I as "Plebs" .

Clearly HARMFUL to the Nation.

For the first time in a CV-19 depressed year, I used the very recently smart "converted" M5 and then a short stretch of the M6 . It was not the other car drivers that caused me concerns for my safety but the massive numbers of heavyweight freight commercials and Vans mostly driven selfishly and even dangerously that caused me to worry. Huge trucks determined to keep up their average speed even when traffic conditions clearly meant speed should be reduced accordingly. No, press on then heavy braking with lots of blue smoke from the many expensive truck tyres. Scary for those ahead. Twice involving inattentive left hand drive heavyweight loaded commercial six-axle stuff!

Speaking to friends who also use those so called smart Motorways, they like myself will avoid them in future and use alternative non-Motorway routes. Precisely what those "We're cleverer than you Plebs" types wanted not to happen! It's not the lightweight cars which pound away damaging our Motorways but the Heavyweight vehicles. Do9n't believe me, go stand on a bridge over any major Motorway route ... feel the vibrations as each heavyweight pounds away passing below. Heavy freight trains on rubber. Millions of 'em. 24/7/365.

All it takes is to activate the "Avoiding Motorways" setting on the SatNav. Suits me Sir and many others. You can keep your Smart Motorways ( What a Con-Trick that name is! ) I and many others will take the Dumb safer routes. So there.

Engineer Andy    on 23 April 2021

God forbid that a civil servant ever admits they made a mistake which was either mostly or entirely their own fault.

DLDLDL    on 23 April 2021

"Go Left"
and if there no where left to go:
"Park in the HGV lane"
You know it is "Smart"!

Well as smart as the cheap skate politicians and highway administrators pursuing a failed policy.

gerhard    on 23 April 2021

I will avoid these dangerous motorways, and take an A road , if a motorway has "Smart Lanes", I do not want to risk the death of myself and my family. This again comes down to money, on the A40, into my town motorists are fined for not reducing speed to 50mph.if the powers to be, put a road sign stating in i/4 mile there was a 50 limit, there would be no fines to pay as motorists would automatically reduce their speed! No! they would not make money then, instead they are talking about reducing the speed limit on all the road instead, therefore punishing all motorists!!! Why do they put people with no common sense in these positions ?

mark stanistreet    on 23 April 2021

So, Highways England's theory is that congestion leads to collisions, resulting in road deaths. Have they provided any statistical evidence to establish what levels of "congestion" actually leads to these additional road deaths?
Highways England is happy for people to die on the Motorway network each year but obviously they need to die in the correct way. Pulverised whilst broken down in an active running lane= good, impact from a shunt= bad. At present 14 is break-even point so Highways England needs to prove that giving back hard shoulders would cause an additional 14 deaths per year from shunts.
Surely if the reason why people die on a Motorway is "congestion" then the solution is to reduce the "congestion"?
(Police seem to think it's when vehicles travel at 5mph over the speed limit but let’s not dwell upon that.)
Incentivising HGVs to run at night, limiting number of vehicles on Motorway with traffic lights, limiting speed limits during periods of "congestion" etc, etc.
There are so many ways of tackling this "congestion" but perhaps we need to follow the money as to why stealing our hard shoulders was their chosen solution.
Ultimately Highways England care about people travelling on our Motorways as much as the Council cared about the residents of the Grefell Tower. Getting them to admit that is as likely as getting blood from a stone. In the meantime the lies and mendacity continue in abundance...

   on 23 April 2021

My nearest Mway (M23) is nearly an hour's drive away so not an issue for me.
However I will drive in lane2 in order to avoid using the "hard shoulder" lane.

TedTom    on 24 April 2021

They could easily replace the hard shoulder, just by painting a white line along it, instantly making it safe again. The argument it eases traffic is a fallacy. Everywhere lanes have been added, they get filled up. When a vehicle breaks down through mechanical failure, most cases it will come to a standstill. May I suggest these experts get off their bikes, and chauffeur driven cars, and drive on these death traps.

   on 25 April 2021

The technology will never, ever be good enough, if the car in front blows a front tyre or the engine suddenly cuts out and immediately slows unexpectedly, the vehicle behind is very likely to run straight into the back of it or swerve into the next lane and into the path of another vehicle. This happens in seconds or fractions of a second at speed, how the hell is any kind of satellite technology going to prevent that? With no escape route, (hard shoulder), serious accidents and deaths will occur. I am convinced the creators of these so-called studies and reports on 'smart' motorways don't actually believe themselves what they're being forced to publish.

Smileyman    on 27 April 2021

My thought is would be a terrible situation but perhaps the only way to get through to people who are convinced they know better .. for a close relative - perhaps young driver, mother with several children and/or elderly / disabled passengers to break down and be stuck in lane 1, unable to reach the refuge .. see how they fare.

Having broken down on a motorway before, and lost 21 year old niece in a car accident (not on motorway) I know what it feels like, don't wish it on anyone however there have been too many deaths already so clearly these boffins need first hand experience too.

conman    yesterday

Smileyman I saw that very same situation on the M6 last Sunday a car with its front smashed up parked on the SMART lane and had it's wheels on as much of the grass it could as the crash barrier would allow. The man was running round the car and the lady had her baby in a baby seat on the grass on the other side of the barrier. But guess what their was no sign of Police, Traffic patrol, Ambulance or anyone. so much for smart motorways. Also why are they fascinated with putting up crash barriers to keep you on the motorway without them you could stand a chance of getting out of the lane. This government seem destined to kill as many innocent people on these stupid stupid motorways. What's worse is the i****s that first of all allow them to be built, secondly are the i****s that build them knowing they are building death traps. and thirdly the i****s that deny these roads are a danger.

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