Smart Motorway Concerns

Highways England is divided into several business units, each with specific responsibility for a particular aspect of its business. These sit within 10 directorates. For instance, within the Major Projects Directorate, there is a business unit responsible for the Smart Motorways Programme (source). What is a smart motorway? Speed cameras, traffic management and hard shoulder use explained by AutoExpress.

  • Russian-Roulette approach to public safety?

“I am not against the idea of Smart Motorways but adopting the process, making the hard shoulder ‘live’ before the public fully understands,  in the absence of proven technology to address stopped vehicles in live lanes and ensuring adequately-sized safe refuges appear frequently, appears naive, reckless.  I also believe the Transport Committee should carefully consider what they have been told about Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) over the past years.  There appear to be contradictions and semantics at play.”  Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd.


Map of Smart motorways network – (08/2019 copy here). Article ‘Where are they already, and where are they being built‘.

Dates of conversion to smart motorways in excel format: FOI 100298 for ‘Schemes which are currently in construction do not include an open for traffic date’ pdf document here: FOI 100298


  • Have you been involved in an incident on a Smart Motorway?  You are to blame; you are a bad driver. 
  • has your vehicle ever failed an MoT (during your ownership or before)? It is treated prejudicially by Highway England.’ 

22/01/2020 Rotheram MP  calls for end of ‘smart motorways’.  Sarah Champion said “it is totally unacceptable to risk lives in the name of cost savings”. (source BBC)

22/01/2020 The transport secretary is finalising ‘a serious package of measures’ to tackle concerns over the safety of smart motorways, MPs have been told. (source Transport Network).

20/01/2020 Did HE’s failure to take advice lead to motorway deaths? source and more – Clean Highways

Highways England was formed in April 2015. Their License from the DfT specified that they must establish a stakeholder advisory panel and ensure that the membership included environment and safety groups . Their failure to do so is detailed at Highways England’s non-compliant Stakeholder Advisory panel.  One can only speculate that if they had received advice on safety via a properly constituted panel the recent tragedies may have been mitigated.

19/01/2020 The AA deems smart motorways so dangerous that it will not let its breakdown crews stop in them to help stranded motorists. (source – Daily Mail).

19/01/2020 Technology designed by Highways England to detect broken-down vehicles on smart motorways stops working in “moderate to heavy” traffic, according to its own chief engineer (source Sunday Times).

18/01/2020 Smart Motorway death on the southbound M1 near Luton where the hard shoulder was opened to traffic. Student, Zahid Ahmed, 19, died when the people carrier he was in came to a “stop” but did not reach an emergency refuge area before a lorry hit it (source – Telegraph).

11/01/2020 ‘A police commissioner has expressed his astonishment at Highways England’s refusal to accept smart motorways can be dangerous despite bosses conceding how removing hard shoulders means emergency vehicles can take longer to reach crashes (source – The Telegraph) .

09/01/2020 SMART motorway networks may get radical upgrades in 2020 as Highways England could be set to build more emergency lay-bys for broken down cars. The plans will reduce the space between the refuge areas from below the current 1 mile spacing in an attempt to boost road safety.  It appears this is now an accepted requirement.  Read more here

20/12/2019 FoIA response to a request for ‘Smart Motorways Too Confusing for People to Use‘ – pdf version available here – 191220 FOI 100446 Smart Motorways

  • 18/12/2019 Highways England still refusing to release evidence over safety of smart motorways. Nottinghamshire Live asked for this information to be provided under a Freedom of Information request but were told it would not be disclosed, because the “information is intended for future publication” read more here.

16/12/2019  FoIA response to a request ‘Concerning Transport Select Committee Yesterday‘ made 24/10/2019 – pdf version available here – FOI 100445 breakdowns

  • A further ‘Transport Committee Hearing’ request regarding Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD, appears on the WDTK site – read more here.  The request is subject to an exemption/review (as at 13/12/2019).

16/12/2019 FoIA response to a request for ‘Smart Motorway Features‘ – pdf version available here – 191216 smart motorways FOI 100546

03/12/2019 Foia response to a request for ‘Smart Motorway Costs and Supervision‘ – pdf version available here 191203 Smart Motorways FOI 100315 Response

16/11/2019 A woman whose husband was killed after becoming stranded on a smart motorway warned Highways England more people could die just months before a child perished at the same spot (source: Telegraph):

  • Badra Ahmed pleaded with Highways England bosses to stop turning hard shoulders into ‘live lanes’ after her husband’s inquest heard he had “nowhere to go” when his vehicle broke down on the M6.
  • a coroner’s report calling for urgent action after Jamil Ahmed’s death was not submitted to Highways England until 21 months after it was promised.
  • Mr Ahmed, 36, a recovery driver stopped on the ‘live’ hard shoulder when his vehicle was hit by a lorry in August 2017 killing him instantly

14/11/2019. As hard-shoulders are removed, motorway breakdowns in England hit five-year high to total more than 200,000 (source: Express).

11/11/2019. Watchdog tells Highways England to up its game on safety

08/11/2019. Motorways must have lay-bys every 1000 metres and wider lanes expert claims (source: Express).

07/11/2019. Smart motorways – outstanding roads or seriously in need of improvement? (source: Clyde & Co)

When your vehicle has issues on a motorway, you look for the safety of the hard shoulder….Since the implementation of smart motorways, this lane has become a live lane and if the unforeseen happens, you are stranded in what is now a death trap and also delaying emergency vehicles attending an incident.”  source

28/10/2019. The chair of the House of Commons’ transport select committee Lillian Greenwood has ordered Highways England to reveal the safety and cost data for its smart motorways projects – read more here.

25/10/2019. Smart motorway review launched as Transport Secretary knows ‘people are dying’ on the road (source: Express).

25/10/2019. ‘Highways England had no system for automatic alerts to a stationary vehicle in a lane’. (Source: Examiner Live).

25/10/2019. ‘The BBC reports that Mr. Shapps was speaking to MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee about the matter, he said. “I have asked my department to carry out at pace an evidence stock-take to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.”  Mr. Schapps department is to lead the review “because some of the statistics have been difficult to understand, and we know people are dying on smart motorways”. (source: VisorDown).

24/10/2019. What are smart motorways? How they work, and why Highways England says they are ‘too complicated’.  A guide to the controversial roads, how to use them, stay safe and avoid fines from inews

19/10/2019. Bad drivers to blame for crashes on smart motorways, says Highways England’s CEO, Jim O’Sullivan.  He told The Times that reckless actions by drivers, including stopping on “live” vehicle lanes without good reason, was one of the main causes of crashes on motorways, not the design of the road. (source: The Times). 

  • Really?  Have driver’s only just started doing this … and where are they to go without a hard shoulder?
  • Only a few weeks ago Jim was struggling to understand the press.
  • Why has the Authority removed the hard shoulder when demand for it is at its highest …a ‘perfect storm’?

18/10/2019: Highways England responds to concerns ambulances are getting stuck on smart motorways after crashes (source SomersetLive). 

13/10/2019: The Indian parents of an 8-year-old boy killed on a ‘Smart Motorway’ are calling for a review of the highways system. Dev Naran was killed in a 2018 collision between a car and a truck on the M6, Birmingham.  At an inquest, West Midlands area coroner Emma Brown warned lives are at risk and called on Highways England to explore ways of helping stranded passengers. (source: The Times of India – UK ‘The Telegraph‘ ‘ITV Hub‘)

12/10/2019: Coroner demands safety reviews after M4 minibus crash deaths. t was revealed during an inquest on Wednesday, October 9, and Thursday, October 10, Highways England had closed a section of the hard shoulder to repair barriers the day before the crash. (source: Berkshire Live).

10/10/2019 FoIA response – Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD)  in use on the ‘smart’ section of the M1 between junction 28 and 35a – there is none – 191000 FOI 100318 response re stopped vehicle detection

10/10/2019: Dozens of drivers a day stranded on smart motorways.

Research by Highways England has shown that 19,316 vehicles stopped in flowing traffic on motorway “live lanes” in 2017 and last year, equivalent to more than 26 a day. In another 28,547 breakdowns drivers were able to make it from the smart motorway lanes to an emergency lay-by, verge or hatched area near a junction, according to a report to MPs. (source The Times)

The report added to concerns over safety on smart motorways in England, where the hard shoulder is removed to boost capacity and emergency refuge areas are built up to 1.5 miles apart. Lanes are closed with a red X on an overhead…

09/09/2019: Smart motorways put thousands of lives at risk by getting rid of hard shoulder, new figures show.  Thousands of drivers have had their lives endangered after breaking down on ‘smart motorways’, the boss of Highways England admitted yesterday. (source: dailymail)

07/10/2019: ‘According to Highways England’s own analysis, stopping in a live lane more than triples the danger when compared to a traditional motorway with a continuous hard shoulder.’ Source – Somerset Live

30/09/2019 : Motorway deaths hit 107 in 2018, up from a year ago as concerns continue to rise over the safety of smart motorway networks. Source – Express

26/09/2019: The number of people being killed or seriously injured (KSI) on the roads is on the rise according to official statistics, as road safety continues to stall.

Motorways saw the largest increase in road deaths, rising by 8% since 2017 to reach 107 deaths in 2018 – figures Highways England described as ‘very concerning’. Read more …

18/09/2019 – UK’s Smart Motorways ‘Dangerous’ After Government ‘Moved the Goalposts’ AA President

Edmund King, President of the AA, said: “The first smart motorway was the M42 in the West Midlands where the laybys were between 400 and 600 metres apart and the gantries about the same distance. You could literally see the next layby and even if you had a flat tyre or smoke was coming out of your engine you could make it to the next layby. But then the Department of Transport and Highways England changed the design and laybys are now every one and a half mile instead of 600 metres. They have totally changed the goalposts.” (source).

18/09/2019Police slam ‘dangerous’ motorway plans to scrap hard shoulder

Instead of parking up on the side of the road, smart motorways will force drivers to head to emergency refuge areas. These zones are reached every 75 seconds for someone travelling at 60mph on the road, but as cars slow down the time gaps between the safe zones increase.

Cars who can’t make it are then potentially stuck in the middle of a live motorway lane, increasing the risk of a devastating collision.

Hampshire Police released an image of officers attending a broken-down van parked in the middle of a lane after failing to reach safety.

Alongside the image, the force tweeted: “The downside to smart motorway. This driver [was] stuck in a dangerous location with nowhere safe to go. With no hard shoulder, we need to protect him whilst recovery is called.”

13/09/2018: Smart motorways are a scandal – it’s time to end this deadly experiment .  Smart motorways, then. No doubt you’ve heard the term bandied about a fair bit in recent weeks. First we found out, thanks to a report by the AA, that breakdowns were deemed an astonishing 216 per cent more dangerous on smart motorways than on old-fashioned ‘dumb’ ones, according to Highways England’s own analysis. (Source: Telegraph).

30/08/2019: ‘Breaking down in a live lane on an all-lane-running (ALR) section of a ‘digital road’ – more commonly known as a smart motorway – is 216 per cent more dangerous than doing so on a conventional motorway with a hard shoulder, a damning report by the organisation responsible for running motorways has revealed‘. Source PressForm

17 minutes to find a broken down vehicle in a live lane

30/08/2019: ‘Report reveals breaking down in a live lane on an all-lane-running motorway is 216% more dangerous than doing so on a conventional one

The report’s revelations are at odds with Government evidence given to the Transport Select Committee in September 2016, when the Committee heard Stopped Vehicle Detection systems would be applied to all sections of ALR smart motorway’. Source: AutoExpress

30/07/2019: Auto Express investigation reveals 224,225 breakdowns in the last year
That a 15% rise year-on-year and up from 189,246 in 2014/15
Some 100 miles of motorways in England are All-Lane-Running smart routes
These have emergency refuge areas every 1.5miles instead of hard shoulders. Source

30/06/2019:  Drivers no longer need the hard shoulder, says Highways England amid criticism of smart motorways.  Source: The Telegraph

06/09/2019: What is a smart motorway? Speed cameras, traffic management and hard shoulder use explained. Safety concerns have led to Highways England increasing the number of smart motorway refuge areas, with one appearing every mile where possible – source Metro.

02/09/2019: The widow of a driver who was killed in a crash on a smart motorway is to sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter, it has emerged.  Claire Mercer accused Highways England of failing to provide drivers with a safe place to stop and pull over and neglecting to implement adequate systems to detect a stationary vehicle in order to protect drivers stopped between lanes of fast-moving traffic. (source TransportNetwork).  Highways England has argued its evidence indicates that since opening, across nine all lane running schemes the casualty rate has reduced by 28%.


 


29/07/2019 – AutoExpress Exclusive: number of breakdowns reaches five-year high

More breakdown, less hard-shoulder refuges

‘The number of vehicles breaking down on England’s motorway and major-road network reached a five-year high in the previous financial year, with Highways England recording 224,225 breakdowns in 2018/19, up from 189,256 in 2014/15’.  full article here.


25/07/2019 – Highway Code rule 258 has been updated to provide details about red ‘x’ signs on motorways. See the full rules changes – Motorways – Motorway signals (255 to 258)


General Information:

30/11/2017: M1 Pile-Up Blamed on Smart Motorway. Source Derby Telegraph

08/2015 – Highways England to expand in-house team after DfT separation – Berwin Leighton Paisner advised Highways England as it awarded £1.55bn worth of contracts for its smart motorways programme.