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Action plan to improve smart motorway safety

Action plan to improve smart motorway safety

SMART motorways could become safer now an 18-point “action plan” has been published.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps outlined the plan which includes speeding up the rollout of radar-based systems to detect stranded vehicles, and more emergency stopping places.

Smart motorways are used to boost capacity, particularly at peak times, rather than widening existing motorways. Managed by Highways England, smart motorways use a variety of methods to control traffic flow such as closing lanes and using the hard shoulder as a live, running lane.

However, there have been calls from organisations, including the AA, to improve the safety of these roads, with concerns raised about vehicles being hit from behind when they have stopped in traffic or when they have broken down.

Mr Shapps published the findings of an “evidence stocktake” which found that “in most ways” smart motorways were as safe or safer than conventional ones.

The number of crashes involving moving vehicles is lower on smart motorways because of technology used to manage traffic flow, the report stated. However, the chance of a collision involving a moving vehicle and a stationary one is higher when the hard shoulder is removed.

In the past five years, at least 38 people have died on stretches of smart motorways, BBC Panorama figures suggest.

Mr Shapps said: “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 measures set out in the 18-point plan will “help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme,” he claimed.

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “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 measures include emergency stopping places being installed every three-quarters of a mile  where possible, instead of the current maximum spacing of one mile.

A radar-based stopped vehicle detection system, called SVD, will be introduced on all smart motorways without a hard should over the next three years. The tech is designed to detect stationary vehicles “typically within 20 seconds”.

Dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways – where the hard shoulder is opened up for traffic during busy periods – are to be scrapped.

AA president Edmund King, a long-time campaigner for smart motorway safety improvements, said the measures were “a victory for common sense and safety”.

However, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes warned “it remains to be seen” whether they go far enough to protect drivers who break down in live lanes.

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