Transport Secretary Fast-Tracks Smart Motorway Changes

Tue 20th Apr 2021

Smart motorway development across England will be halted unless new radar technology is installed.

The news comes after Highways England revealed that the system which detects broken-down vehicles is now a prerequisite for all new smart motorways to be built. In addition the Government has also brought forward plans to retrofit the existing smart motorway network with the Stopped Vehicle Detection technology.

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had originally planned for the SVD to be implemented by March 2023, but that will now be in place by September 2022 - six months ahead of schedule.

“Despite the data showing that fatalities are less likely on All Lane Running motorways than on conventional ones, this doesn’t mean all drivers necessarily feel safe on them,” said Shapps.

“That is why I tasked Highways England last year with delivering an action plan to raise the bar on safety measures even higher. This progress report shows the extensive work already carried out, but we want to do more.”

Highways England maintains that smart motorways are the ‘safest roads in the country’, however that comes against growing concerns that the systems are failing and ultimately costing lives. Fifteen people were killed on motorways without a permanent hard shoulder in 2019 and a Sheffield coroner has judged that smart motorways contributed to the death of Jason Mercer who died on a smart motorway in 2019.

The RAC says that even with SVD installed on all smart motorways, there is still an element of risk for all vehicles who break down.

“A gap remains between what the data suggests about the safety of smart motorways and what many drivers believe to be the case,” said Steve Gooding from the RAC Foundation.

“The numbers mean nothing if it’s your car that breaks down and you can’t reach an emergency refuge.

“The challenge for Highways England is not just doing the upgrade work but communicating to road users that all lane running requires a different mindset from drivers – only then will they start to turn public opinion around.”