Smart Motorways: Are They Safe?

Smart motorways have been around for a while, but there is still growing concern over whether they are safe. In 2006, dynamic hard shoulders were introduced, and major motorways first started using all-lane running in 2014.

Safety fears have increased over the years, however there’s no sign of stopping the transition to completely smart motorways.

What You Need to Know About Smart Motorways

What Are Smart Motorways?

There are two main types of smart motorways: dynamic and all-lane running.

Dynamic refers to the hard shoulder only being used by moving traffic at certain times. All-lane running refers to the hard shoulder being permanently converted into a lane. Both types have overhead electronic signs in order to signal to drivers any reduced speed limits and emergency lane closures.

The rules that you have to follow on smart motorways are:

  • Keep the left, unless you are overtaking
  • Never drive in a lane that has an overhead signal of a red X
  • Follow the speed limit shown on the overhead signals
  • A hard shoulder is identified by a solid white line, a normal running lane is identified by a broken white line – if there’s no speed limit displayed above the hard shoulder or a Red X is displayed, do not use it except in emergency

What to Do in An Emergency

If the hard shoulder is being used as an extra lane and you are experience vehicle difficulty, you should:

  • Use the designated emergency areas
  • If possible, exit the motorway immediately
  • Put your hazard lights on if you break down

Why Were They Introduced?

Firstly, the hard shoulder is actually a very dangerous place. When people stop on them unnecessarily, this increases the risk of injury and death. Smart motorways have been designed to essentially eliminate this danger.

Secondly, with increasing traffic on the roads, smart motorways offer the option to add capacity to the motorway network without building additional roads or widening existing ones. Also, this also means there isn’t any disruptive works going on to achieve this.

Are Smart Motorways Safer?

Smart motorways have been introduced with safety in mind and evidence over the years have shown that casualty rates are reducing because of them. The Department for Transport analysed figures for the death toll on smart motorways by traffic volume between 2015-2018 and found it was lower than conventional motorways.

Regarding the latest generation of smart motorway, data has been collated over 3 years from 2 smart motorway schemes on the M25 and 1 year of date from 7 other schemes across the country. The figures show an overall 18% reduction in risk compared to a conventional motorway and casualty rates have reduced by 28%.

Are Safety Doubts Being Addressed by the Government?

Simply put, smart motorways are here to stay, but there are going to be changes to help people feel even safer:

  • By 2025, dynamic hard shoulders will no longer exist, it will just be an all-lane running smart motorway across the country
  • Places to stop in emergencies, such as emergency areas, hard shoulders on junction slip roads and motorway service areas, will be reduced from 1.5 miles to 1 mile apart on new smart motorway schemes
  • Stopped Vehicle Detection technology will be installed more frequently so lanes can close quicker when needed
  • Traffic Patrol are training to speed up response times
  • Updates to the Highway Code will occur to help ensure drivers know the rules.

At Portman Logistics, we always keep up to date with transport news and ensure our drivers are always driving as safely as possible.

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