Smart motorways: Safety measures to be put in place before new 'All Lanes Running' motorways open

Looking South down the A1(M) motorway between junction six and seven. Picture: DANNY LOO

Looking South down the A1(M) motorway between Junction 6 and 7 - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

New smart motorways will not be able to open without additional safety measures to spot broken-down vehicles quickly, and existing smart motorways will receive the technology sooner than planned, the government has said.

Plans to turn a section of the A1(M) - Junction 6 for Welwyn to Junction 8 for Stevenage - into a sm

Plans to turn a section of the A1(M) - near Welwyn and Stevenage - into a smart motorway were shelved to allow Highways England to address safety issues - Credit: Danny Loo

Yesterday Highways England published its Smart motorways stocktake for 2021, detailing an action plan to ensure smart motorways are as 'safe as possible'. 

Plans to turn a section of the A1(M) - Junction 6 for Welwyn to Junction 8 for Stevenage - into a smart motorway by 2022 were shelved last year until 2025 as part of an effort to concentrate on making existing smart motorways safer.

Now, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that radar technology will be in place before any new stretch of 'All Lanes Running' motorway is opened, and by September 2022 for existing smart motorways.

Other measures include upgrading cameras so cars that ignore closed lanes, indicated by red X signs above the road, can be caught and prosecuted and putting more signs up about distances to emergency refuge areas.

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Earlier this year a Bedfordshire coroner wrote to Highways England after concluding an inquest into the death of 19-year-old Zahid Ahmed, who was killed in 2019 on the smart motorway at the M1 South Junction 11a when the car he was a passenger in broke down where there was no hard shoulder.

The coroner wrote: "A detective constable from the Bedfordshire Police Serious Collision Investigation Unit said 'the absence of a hard shoulder contributed to the collision. Had the car been able to stop in a location other than a live lane, the HGV would not have driven into the back of it.'

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"Action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you have the power to take such action."

Highways England's report shows that fatal casualties are less likely on ALR motorways than conventional ones, based on data from between 2015 and 2019, but that the risk of a live lane collision between a moving vehicle and a stopped vehicle is greater.

For the year 2019, there were nine fatalities on ALR motorways, one fewer than in 2018, and a total of 15 fatalities on motorways without a permanent hard shoulder, four more than in 2018.

According to the report the increase in fatalities in 2019 was accounted for by so-called ‘Dynamic Hard Shoulder’ motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time.

All these motorways are being withdrawn and replaced with ALR motorways - where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live running lane for traffic.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "Despite the data showing that fatalities are less likely on All Lane Running motorways than on conventional ones, this doesn’t mean all drivers necessarily feel safe on them.

"That is why I tasked Highways England last year with delivering an action plan to raise the bar on safety measures even higher. This progress report shows the extensive work already carried out, but we want to do more.

"Alongside the raft of measures already undertaken, today I am announcing that all new ALR motorways will open with stopped vehicle detection technology in place, as well as a programme to speed up the roll-out of the technology on previously built stretches of All Lane Running motorways to next year. This will help us further reduce the risk of accidents on the country’s roads."

Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose eight-year-old son Dev died in a motorway accident on the M6 in 2018, said: "This is a positive step in the right direction in making our roads safer through the use of available technology.

"I’m determined to ensure there is an ongoing commitment from ministers and executives that we continue to improve road safety and implement all the changes from the action plan."

Highways England’s acting chief executive Nick Harris said: "I want Highways England to continue to be an organisation that listens and puts the safety of road users first.

"We’ve made good progress delivering the improvements set out in the 2020 stocktake, but we are not complacent and are examining ways to improve safety further.

"We will continue implementing the findings, and will work with drivers to make increasingly busy motorways safer for everyone who uses them."

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