Government Announces Measures to Improve Safety on UK Smart Motorways

‘All Lane Running’ motorways (ALR), or as they are generally known, smart motorways, don’t have hard shoulders and are fitted with technology and other features not seen on conventional motorways such as set-back emergency areas, and red X signs on gantries to close live lanes. These motorways convert the hard shoulder into a live lane and limit speeds or close lanes, communicated to drivers by the overhead electronic signs.

In April 2021, the government announced all new smart motorways will open with new technology to detect stopped or broken-down vehicles quickly, while existing smart motorways will have the technology installed 6 months earlier than originally planned (by September 2022).

This announcement comes after Highways England published the first year progress report on the ALR motorways stocktake which outlines the progress that has been made against an action plan published last year. The 2020 action plan highlighted 18 actions, costing £500 million, including the deployment of radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD), and £5 million on national and focused communications campaigns to help drivers receive advice and feel safer on smart motorways.

Over the past year, Highways England has:

  • launched a major road safety campaign to advise drivers on what to do if they break down
  • carried out work to turn emergency areas orange so they are more visible to drivers and improve the signage to make drivers aware of how far they are from the next place they can stop in an emergency
  • installed 10 more emergency areas on the M25 around London
  • held a public consultation on proposed changes to the Highway Code that will give guidance on motorway driving
  • continued to upgrade cameras so they can automatically detect red X violations
  • introduced radar-based stopped vehicle detection technology on sections of the M3 and the M20, with work in progress on the M1

The first-year progress report 2021 continues to show fatal casualties are less likely on smart motorways compared to conventional motorways but given public concern over motorways without hard shoulders, the progress report outlines the safety measures which will be accelerated to reassure road users.

By the end of September 2022, Highways England will:

  • fit radar technology on all existing smart motorways, 6 months earlier than planned
  • upgrade special cameras 10 months earlier than planned, so that they can be identify and prosecute drivers ignoring red X signs and illegally using closed lanes, which is dangerous to themselves and other drivers
  • install approximately 1,000 additional approach signs 6 months earlier than planned, informing drivers of the nearest place to stop in an emergency