Highways England is to accelerate implementing safety measures to Smart Motorways
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that technology to spot stopped vehicles will be in place before any new stretch of ‘All Lane Running’ motorway is opened, in connection with a Highways England report detailing progress made to boost safety and setting out ways in which improvements will be sped up.
Every new ‘All Lane Running’ (ALR) motorway will open with technology in place to spot stopped or broken-down vehicles quickly, while all existing ALR motorways will have the technology fitted six months earlier than originally planned, the Transport Secretary said.
The pledge comes as Highways England publishes its Smart Motorways Stocktake First Year Progress Report 2021, which sets out the progress it has made against an action plan published last year to boost safety, and backed by a £500 million investment.
To accelerate improvements, by the end of September 2022, Highways England said it will:
- Install radar technology on all existing stretches of ALR motorway, six months earlier than planned;
- Upgrade special cameras 10 months earlier than planned, so that they can be used to spot and prosecute motorists ignoring ‘red X’ signs and illegally driving down closed lanes, putting themselves and others in danger;
- Install around 1,000 additional approach signs six months earlier than planned, alerting drivers to their nearest place to stop in an emergency, and;
- Work to update the Highway Code to provide more guidance about driving on high speed roads including ALR motorways will also be brought forward and is due to be published this year, ahead of schedule.
Data from the report, covering 2015-2019 inclusive, shows that ALR motorways are one of the safest types of road in the country. It said that drivers on a conventional motorway are 33% more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than drivers on an ALR motorway, whilst the fatality rate on strategic road network A-roads is three and a half times that on ALR motorways.
The report said that the increase in fatalities in 2019 was accounted for by ‘Dynamic Hard Shoulder’ motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time. All these motorways are being withdrawn and replaced with ALR motorways.
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 All Lane Running 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.
“So-called Smart Motorways started to be built in 2001 and I am determined to ensure that technology and exacting standards are in place.”
Highways England’s Acting Chief Executive Nick Harris added: “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.”
In the past year, Highways England has launched its biggest ever road safety campaign, setting out what to do in the event of breaking down on a high-speed road, and work has been completed to make emergency areas more visible along with improved signage, and radar technology is now being rolled out along sections of ALR motorway. Highways England and the Home Office have also continued work so motorists who drive along lanes closed by a red X can be caught and prosecuted.
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 on-going commitment from ministers and executives that we continue to improve road safety and implement all the changes from the action plan.”