Since the introduction of Smart Motorways in 2013, they have been surrounded by criticism and controversy, with sections of the M25 being subject to a 20 fold increase in near misses since the removal of the hard shoulder.
What exactly are Smart Motorways? Why were they introduced? And what measures are the government taking to improve their safety?
Smart Motorways are simply motorways where the government has chosen to expand the number of motorway lanes from three to four via the use of the hard shoulder. Usually these motorways are accompanied with the use of variable speed limits to control traffic flow.
Their introduction was a solution to high levels of motorway congestion in the UK and a more economical alternative to building an additional lane into motorways.
However, their widespread use, with 300 more miles of smart motorways to be introduced by 2025, has raised numerous safety issues.
- “Dynamic” hard shoulder lanes that are only used when high levels of congestion are experienced can be confusing for drivers, increasing the likelihood of collisions
- With a 17 minute average break down response time, the risk of collision between a stationary and moving car remain considerably higher on smart motorways than on motorways with a hard shoulder
- Emergency refuge areas can be up to 2.5km apart, making it unlikely for motorists to be able to reach these areas when their vehicle breaks down
With an average of 11 people dying per year on smart motorways between 2015 and 2018, calls for safety improvements have finally been answered by the government with the introduction of new measures, including:
- Installing new and more visible emergency stopping areas
- Increased traffic signs to alert drivers to their next available stopping area
- Reducing the emergency response time from 17 minutes to 10 minutes
- Maximum spacing between refuge areas of one mile
- Automatic detection of motorists who ignore the red X
What should you do if you break down on a Smart Motorway?
Where possible drivers should aim to reach an emergency stopping area, which are marked by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol. These provide a phone to ring for recovery. In the event where this is not possible the advice is to move as far as possible to the left-hand verge, switch on your hazard lights and rear fog or side lights, and if it feels safe enough, exit your vehicle and stand on the other side of the safety barrier if applicable.
In situations where your vehicle breaks down in the middle or right hand lane, motorists should keep seatbelts on, turn on hazard warning lights and immediately ring 999.