Smart motorway safety areas

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18 April 2024

New emergency areas for smart motorways

National Highways puts in 52 new smart motorway safety areas

Press Release

Well I was actually looking for the hard shoulder...
In reaction to public pressure, National Highways are putting in 52 new safety areas for traffic to pull into on smart motorways, perhaps a stop gap before reinstating the hard shoulders?

The first all lane running motorway was a 1.5 mile stretch of the M25 in Hertfordshire which opened on the 14th of April in 2014. Following this, in June of 2016 a Transport Committee report into them advised the Government that it shouldn’t proceed with all lane running motorways, citing ‘major safety concerns’:
“Overall, we conclude that there are journey time and reliability improvements of All Lane Running, and our concern is that the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements. (Paragraph 22)”

In April 2024, The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, cancelled the roll out of future all lane running smart motorways. Not before 193 miles of them had been built, up until 2021, and since then the M6 and M56 have been completed.
RAC research, released in April 2023, showed that seven out of ten drivers (69%) wanted the hard shoulder reinstated on existing all lane running smart motorways, despite the Government’s reluctance due to cost and disruption. Plus questions asked of the public in December 2022 showed that half of drivers (49%) said they sometimes avoid using the slow lane on smart motorways as they are worried they might run into a broken down vehicle unable to pull over on to the non existent hard shoulder.
The RAC head of policy Simon Williams reacted to the news with this statement:
"It's incredible to think that a decade has gone by since the first all-lane-running stretch of smart motorway opened on the M25 in Hertfordshire, and that it’s a year to the day since the Prime Minister cancelled all 14 future schemes, citing financial pressures and a lack of public confidence in them.
“There is a real irony when it comes to talking about cost pressures in relation to these distinctly unpopular types of motorway. While heralded as a cost-effective way of increasing capacity on some of our busier roads, a colossal amount of public money has since gone into trying to make them safer – for instance by installing radar-based technology to detect stricken vehicles more quickly, plus the creation of additional emergency refuge areas. This cash needn’t have been spent had the Government not taken the decision to plough on with building all-lane running motorways, regardless of concerns expressed by drivers, the RAC and even the Transport Committee.
“However, the ultimate question remains: will the motoring public ever be entirely comfortable driving on the 200-plus miles of motorway where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed? The hard shoulder is by no means a safe location, but in the event of a breakdown, it is far safer than being stranded in a live lane of traffic waiting for the ‘red X closed lane’ sign to be turned on and then for other drivers to do the right thing and move into another lane.
“We continue to believe that the Government should either convert existing all-lane-running smart motorways to ‘dynamic’ ones, where the hard shoulder is only opened to traffic during busy periods, or repaint the white line and reintroduce a permanent hard shoulder on these roads. In either case, queue-busting technology, such as variable speed limits, could remain to help ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible.”
So the good news is that smart motorways are no longer going to be built, although it does feel a bit as though everyone told them so right from the start, but they just carried on anyway and ignored the warnings. A lot of government, and tax payer’s, money could have been saved, had the Transport Committee’s warnings been heeded back in 2016! But better late than never. As a motorcyclist, there is even less protection in the slow lane should you break down, so this is, hopefully, a welcome change for motorcyclists.
Any thoughts on this issue? Let us know if so at [email protected]  or on Facebook. 

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