The UK Government has unveiled an 18-point package of measures that it hopes will “raise the bar” on safety after previous criticism of the country’s smart motorways.
The measures include abolishing ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ motorways and speeding up deployment of ‘stopped vehicle detection’ – a radar-based system which spots stationary vehicles – with the intention of having it installed across all smart motorways within 36 months.
Smart motorways use traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas. These methods include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.
Concerns were raised around the motorways after figures from BBC Panorama showed 38 deaths were reported in the past five years, and conversion of the hard shoulder into a lane during busy hours confused many drivers, causing crashes.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps commented: “I’ve been greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.
“I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps. I envisaged it to be swift but, during our investigations, a complex picture emerged – which warranted further work.
“That work has now concluded and, overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones.
“But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.”
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The report also states that £5 million is being committed on nationwide public campaigns to increase drivers’ awareness and understanding of these motorways and how to use them confidently.
Edmund King, AA president, said: “For the last decade we have been campaigning to improve the design and safety of ‘smart’ motorways. The measures announced by the Transport Secretary are a victory for common sense and safety.
“The fact that 38% of breakdowns happen in live lanes on smart motorways means drivers have been at risk. Tragically people have lost their lives, and in some cases, coroners have indicated this could have been avoided.
“We are committed to ensuring smart motorways work for drivers and that drivers understand how to use them”.