Skip to main content

Smart motorways: Lawyer calls for improved safety as BBC Panorama investigation uncovers technology concerns

Smart motorways have emerged as a modern solution to alleviate congestion and enhance traffic flow on Britain’s road network. 

Smart motorways were first introduced in 2006 as part of a pilot on the M42. However, in recent years there has been a lot of scrutiny around the use and safety of all-lane running smart motorways – which have had the hard shoulder removed - in particular, following a number of safety incidents.   

Smart motorway safety concerns

Recent scrutiny has cast a shadow over smart motorway safety, raising concerns about the inherent dangers they pose to motorists.

The absence of robust safety measures on all-lane running smart motorways has been the focal point of criticism. The removal of hard shoulders, designated refuge areas and the reliance on technology for incident detection have left motorists vulnerable to potentially catastrophic consequences in case of breakdowns or accidents. 

The absence of a hard shoulder means that vehicles experiencing mechanical failures or collisions are stranded in live lanes, increasing the possibility of accidents. With no emergency stopping location, drivers have limited options when faced with emergencies on all lane-running smart motorways.  

Tragically lives have been lost as a result and there have been numerous calls for urgent action to mitigate the risk associated with smart motorways. 

Panorama investigation raises technology safety concerns

The BBC has recently highlighted that smart motorway technology is failing drivers.

Panorama's smart motorway investigation concluded that the required safety equipment to ensure smart motorways run safely has stopped working on a regular basis.  Worryingly, Panorama reports one of the traffic officers working on the smart motorway network states that he no longer considers them safe. 

Greater investment

The government has committed to investing £900 million on improved technology to help make the network safer, but is this too little too late?

Lawyers supporting those affected by smart motorway collisions

Irwin Mitchell represents a number of people affected by collisions on smart motorways. These people have either lost loved ones or sustained serious and in some cases life-changing injuries as a result of collisions on smart motorways. They include Claire Mercer who wants the hard shoulder reinstating on all existing all-lane running smart motorways. 

These high-profile incidents have underscored the need to urgently address safety deficiencies. 

I'm concerned about the erosion of public trust in smart motorways and believe that to truly address the hazards posed by smart motorways, a holistic and considered approach to safety is imperative. 

In my view, there are clear concerns around the use of all-lane running smart motorways. The evidence points to controlled motorways being able to increase road capacity whilst putting the safety of road users at the forefront.


Whilst some forms of smart motorways hold promise for enhancing safety efficiency, their safety deficiencies cannot be overlooked. In the first instance, reinstatement of the hard shoulder and conversion to controlled motorways would improve safety whilst protecting road users.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in supporting families following collisions on smart motorways at our dedicated road accidents section.