Complex Injury Solicitor, Craig Withington, provides an update on his previous article discussing Smart Motorways following a recent Government announcement.
About 10% of England's motorway network is currently made up of smart motorways. These involve various methods to manage the flow of traffic, including converting the hard shoulder into a live lane and smart gantries to alter speeds and warn of obstructions and lane closures.
Introduced in England in 2014 to ease congestion, there are currently 375 miles of smart motorway, including 235 miles with no hard shoulder.
There have been longstanding fears surrounding such stretches of road following fatal accidents involving vehicles hit from behind after being forced to stop in live lanes without a hard shoulder. There has also been adverse comment from various coroners on the subject.
On 15 April 2023 the Department of Transport confirmed that plans for new smart motorways will be cancelled in recognition of the current lack of public confidence felt by drivers along with cost pressures. Any such motorways earmarked for construction during the third Road Investment Strategy (2025 to 2030) and previously paused schemes will now not go ahead.
It has also been announced that existing smart motorways will continue to benefit from £900 million of safety improvements. This is to include 150 extra emergency areas across the network in line with the commitments made in response to the Transport Select Committee, as well as further improving the performance of stopped vehicle detection technology on every ‘all lane running’ smart motorway.
RAC Road Safety Spokesman, Simon Williams, commented:
"This is a watershed announcement and a victory for everyone who has campaigned against these motorways that, by their design, put drivers in more danger should they be unlucky enough to break down on one.
"Our research shows all lane-running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we're pleased the government has finally arrived at the same conclusion. It's now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.
"The possibility of converting all lane running stretches to the 'dynamic hard shoulder' configuration, where the hard shoulder is open and closed depending on the levels of traffic, could be one option the government considers."
It seems that the concerns of safety campaigners, motoring organisations and coroners have prevailed. Whilst we wait to see the fate of existing stretches already in operation, it appears the brave new world of smart motorways is at an end.
Craig Withington, Solicitor Complex Injury Team
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