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Smart motorway ‘action plan’ to boost safety

The 18-point plan has been published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

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A stretch of smart motorway on the M3 near Longcross, Surrey (Steve Parsons/PA)

A stretch of smart motorway on the M3 near Longcross, Surrey (Steve Parsons/PA)

A stretch of smart motorway on the M3 near Longcross, Surrey (Steve Parsons/PA)

An 18-point “action plan” to boost smart motorway safety has been launched by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Measures include more places to stop in an emergency and faster roll-out of a radar-based system to detect broken down vehicles.

Mr Shapps published the findings of an “evidence stocktake” he commissioned in October 2019, which found that “in most ways” smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional ones.

The report stated that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on smart motorways because technology is installed to smooth traffic flow.

But the chances of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle is higher when the hard shoulder is removed.

Mr Shapps said: “I’ve been greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways, and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.

There is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safetyGrant Shapps

“I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps. I envisaged it to be swift, but during the course of our investigations a complex picture emerged – which warranted further work.

“That work has now concluded and overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones.

“But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety.

“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.”

Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England, which manages England’s motorways and major A roads, said: “Every death in any road accident is tragic, and we are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible.

“We will be taking forward the measures the Secretary of State for Transport has set out, and we will be improving further our information to drivers to help them be safer on all of our roads, including our smart motorway network.”

The “action plan” creates a new standard for the spacing of emergency refuge areas (ERAs), which are designed for vehicles that need to stop when there is no hard shoulder.

ERAs will be installed every three-quarters of a mile where possible in future schemes, down from an existing maximum spacing of one mile.

The use of a radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) system will be rolled out on all smart motorways without a hard should over the next three years.

SVD is specifically designed to detect stationary vehicles, typically within 20 seconds.

This leads to a message being automatically displayed on overhead gantries and a control room operator being alerted.

AA president Edmund King said: “For the last decade we have been campaigning to improve the design and safety of smart motorways.

“The measures announced by the Transport Secretary today are a victory for common sense and safety.”

PA