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Highways England defends safety of smart motorways


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Highways England has defended the safety of smart motorways following recent claims that they increase the risk of accidents.

It has claimed the latest generation of nine smart motorways – which have stretches without a hard shoulder but utilise digital technology to control traffic – have reduced casualty rates by 28%.

This comes after press reports, including in The Daily Telegraph, that the roads are placing lives at risk as the 1.5 mile gap between emergency laybys is too far.

Three years ago a House of Commons Transport Committee report raised a similar warning, and there have been claims that the practice raises risk by 216%.

Highways England said the figure is an estimate from before the schemes were deployed and that other hazards contribute to the risks. It claimed these hazards are being reduced on smart motorways.

Its chief highway engineer Mike Wilson said: “Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety. The first nine of the latest generation of smart motorways have reduced casualty rates by more than 25%.

“Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.”

Reduced risk

The organisation claimed that a risk assessment of the design of smart motorways estimated an 18% reduction in risk compared to a conventional motorway, and that since the casualty rate had been reduced by 28% since the opening of the ‘all lane running’ schemes. The figure is based on three years of data from two schemes on the M25 and one year from seven others.

Technology used on smart motorways includes CCTV cameras, traffic volume sensors and electronic message signs that display Red X signs and variable speed limits.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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