Eighteen measures to improve safety on smart motorways, including the removal of dynamic hard shoulders, have been announced in a government review following nationwide criticism.
So-called 'smart' motorways hit the headlines recently after the BBC's Panorama programme questioned how safe they really are.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps
Smart motorways, where the hard shoulder is turned into a live lane, have been criticised because refuge areas are spaced too far apart and drivers who break down can be trapped in speeding traffic. some breakdown organisations have instructed roadside technicians not to stop on smart motorways amid increasing safety concerns after it was revealed a number of workers died last year.
In its newly-published report, the Department for Transport (DfT) acknowledges that dynamic hard shoulder running has 'the potential to cause confusion for motorists'. As such, hard shoulders on these roads will be converted into permanent running lanes, meaning there won’t be a hard shoulder at all.
Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs), which drivers are supposed to pull into if they suffer a breakdown, will be installed no more than one mile apart on any new stretches of smart motorway, while the aim will be to have them at an average of 0.75 miles apart. The 0.75-mile refuge area rule will also apply to existing stretches of smart motorway where possible.
According to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC to Highways England, 38 people have died on smart motorways in the past five years. It is the first time that the total number of deaths has been reported.
Other measures announced to improve safety include:
Speeding up the deployment of stopped vehicle detection technology to cover the network within the next three years, allowing problems to be spotted within 20 seconds and lanes to be closed more quickly.
Faster attendance by more Highways England traffic officer patrols on smart motorways.
Reducing the distance between places to stop in an emergency to three quarters of a mile where feasible, and to a maximum of one mile.
Building 10 more emergency areas on the M25 where there has been a higher rate of breakdown.
Making emergency areas more visible with a bright orange surface, and better signed.
A £5 million campaign to increase public awareness and knowledge of smart motorways.
Automatic detection of and enforcement action against drivers ignoring the red “X” sign in closed lanes.
Highways England – the public body which runs the UK’s Strategic Road Networks of motorways and major A roads – has also been asked by the DfT to install Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology across the smart motorway network within the next 36 months. This technology is able to quickly detect any cars that stop in a live lane, automatically alerting Highways England staff.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said there is more still to do to raise safety standards on smart motorways.
'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,' he added.
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