New 'Smart Motorway' Plans Raise Safety Concerns

Motorists Are Worried About The Hard Shoulder Being Removed On Motorways


The UK's first 'smart motorway' has officially opened in the south-east of England and the landmark development has prompted safety concerns.

A section of the M25 between junctions 23 and 25 has been widened in order to accommodate more traffic. Rather than building new lanes, the Highways Agency has opted to use the hard shoulder as an extra lane.

The organisation confirmed that similar schemes would also be rolled out on the M1, M3 and M62 in the near future. Graham Dalton, chief executive of the Highways Agency, said that smart motorways are quicker to build and easier to operate.

However, the AA surveyed 21,510 of its members and the results suggested that many people are worried about driving on smart motorways.

Around 63 per cent said they would feel more nervous driving on a road that had no hard shoulder, while an overwhelming 87 per cent stated that having an emergency lane that remains empty is what makes motorways so safe.

In addition to this, 77 per cent of respondents disagreed with the notion that new safety features on modern cars have removed the need for a hard shoulder.

Paul Watters, the AA's head of roads policy, said the Highways Agency has "gone to great lengths" to maximise the safety of smart motorways, but he feels there have been too many cutbacks on the technology that was used on the M42 smart motorway pilot scheme.

He believes there are too few gantries on the M25 and the emergency refuge area spacing is too far apart at 2.5 km.

"Motorways are our safest roads and that is how we want it to stay. New smart motorways depend on drivers complying with the rules of the road and safety advice," Mr Watters commented.

"Safety also depends on a rapid response to incidents on the part of the road operator and technology."

Expert Opinion
Whilst everyone wants to see less traffic on the roads, this should not be at the expense of safety.

“It is to be hoped that thorough risk assessments have been carried out where the installation of ‘smart motorways’ is proposed to ensure the safety of all road users is not being compromised.

“Authorities must consider whether there is a need for increased training and awareness of how to keep yourself and other road users safe on smart motorways.

“We see on a daily basis the devastating consequences collisions at high speed have on those involved and believe all changes to road infrastructure must have safety as the main priority rather than reducing queues.”
Colin Ettinger, Partner