The transport secretary has recently announced 18 measures to improve safety on the UK’s smart motorways after discovering sections of the network had experienced “clusters” of fatalities and injuries.
The death toll on stretches of smart or managed motorways has reached 38 in the last five years – many of which could have been avoidable.
Grant Shapp’s, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, findings came in a long-awaited review into the controversial smart motorways, which currently makes up around 200 miles of England’s roads.
The government’s plan to improve the motorways include abolishing the “confusing” dynamic hard shoulder.
Currently, these dynamic hard shoulders enable a part-time hard shoulder to become a live-running lane during peak traffic, with electronic signs on overhead gantries being used to advise motorists of which lanes are available.
The report showed that on average 11 people died in each year between 2015 and 2018 after breaking down on live lanes and unable to reach a refuge area.
The action plan also includes accelerating the installation of stopped vehicle detection technology, with a plan to have it in place across the entire smart motorway network within the next 36 months.
Highways England traffic patrols will also be placed where there is larger spacing between refuge areas to reduce emergency response times from 17 minutes to a target of 10 minutes.
Maximum spacing between refuge areas will also be set at one mile or, “where feasible”, three-quarters of a mile.
Ten additional emergency areas will be installed on the M25 and specific areas where there have been clusters of incidents – the M6 Bromford viaduct and on the M1 at Luton, Sheffield and Wakefield – will be investigated to see if changes are likely to make a difference.
The Department for Transport has committed to invest an extra £5 million into campaigns which increase awareness of smart motorway systems, provide extra training for recovery firms and increase the number of traffic signs.
They will also be working alongside sat-nav providers to ensure emergency areas are clearly displayed on-screen.
The AA motoring organisation, which led calls to alter smart motorways, issued a poll which showed just 9 per cent of drivers felt relaxed or safe when using them.
AA president, Edmund King called the measures “a victory for common sense and safety”.
Rizwan Mughal, an Associate Solicitor in our serious injury department shared his views on the plan:
“Given that the effective removal of the permanent hard shoulder fundamentally produced an unnecessary and avoidable risk to road users, these measures are very much welcomed.
The impact of the improvement measures remains to be seen however this would appear to be a positive change on the face of it.
My view is that the key to the future success of smart motorways will lie in a concerted effort from multiple parties, and an adequate widespread campaign, to bring road users up to speed with the new changes that will follow over the course of the next few years.”
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