Nine more smart motorways get go-ahead despite safety concerns

Nine further sections of new all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways have been approved despite widespread safety reservations, reports suggest. 

As first revealed by the Sunday Times, the new stretches of smart motorway will include a 32-mile section of the M3, a further 10-mile segment of the M3, a 17-mile stretch of the M6 and 23 miles of the M1.

Significantly, it’s being reported that the new projects don’t adhere to the safety recommendations made in a report by transport secretary Grant Shapps in March. 

As part of an 18-point safety plan outlined in a report into smart motorways, Shapps’ department declared that emergency refuse areas should “ideally” be placed three-quarters of a mile apart and no more than a mile apart – down from the current maximum spacing of 1.5 miles. 

However, it’s reported that the new stretches will feature the emergency lay-bys positioned at distances between 1.04 and 1.39 miles. Smart motorways have no hard shoulder, so these are the only places motorists will be able to move out of the way of live traffic if an incident or breakdown occurs. 

Currently, there are around 500 miles of smart motorway across the network in England, with plans for 300 more miles to be added by 2025. 

The government has abolished the ‘dynamic’ hard shoulder smart motorways where part-time hard shoulders are in operation. Other plans announced after the review earlier this year included the accelerated roll-out of stopped vehicle detection technology and increased Highways England patrols.

In January, the head of the Police Federation in England and Wales, John Apter, called smart motorways “inherently dangerous” and said the police and the country had been “completely mislead about the technology”.

The pilot for the scheme, tested on the M42 near Birmingham before the go-ahead decisions was given in 2010, had refuge areas on average every 600 metres, and the police were told that the technology would automatically spot and deal with an obstruction quickly. 

“What we now learn is that it takes an average of 17 minutes for an obstruction to be spotted and another 17 minutes for help to arrive,” Apter said. 

Last month, a survey commissioned by recovery firm Green Flag and road safety charity Brake revealed that just 48% of UK motorists know how to use smart motorways, with 25% of those surveyed not even knowing that such a thing existed.