Action plan to make smart motorways safer12 Mar 2020

Eighteen measures to be implemented

A Government review has concluded that all lane running motorways are, overall, as safe, or safer, than conventional motorways.

However, ministers are introducing an 18-point action plan to make them safer still.

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says that a study of data from 2015-18 inclusive shows that “in all four year, the fatal casualty rate for smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder was lowwer than it is on motorways with a hard shoulder.

However, the picture on serious injuries is mixed with a higher number of this type of casualty on ALR stretches in three of the four years.

Mr Shapps concludes that “some risks on these roads are greater, others are less” but overall “smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones.”

The package of measures announced by Mr Shapps are:

  • abolishing the confusing “dynamic hard shoulder” smart motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time and is a live running lane the rest of the time
  • substantially speeding up the deployment of “stopped vehicle detection” technology across the entire “all lane running” smart motorway network, so stopped vehicles can be detected and the lanes closed more quickly. Highways England is to accelerate its plans and install the technology within the next 36 months, setting a clear public timetable for the first time
  • faster attendance by more Highways England traffic officer patrols on smart motorways where the existing spacing between places to stop in an emergency is more than one mile, with the aim of reducing the attendance time from an average of 17 minutes to 10 minutes
  • reducing the distance between places to stop in an emergency to three quarters of a mile where feasible so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be 1 mile
  • installing 10 additional emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorways on the section of smart motorway with a higher rate of live lane stops and where places to stop in an emergency are furthest apart
  • considering a national programme to install more emergency areas where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart
  • investigating M6 Bromford viaduct and the M1 at Luton, Sheffield and Wakefield where there is evidence of clusters of incidents. Where an intervention is considered likely to make a difference, we will look to make changes at these locations
  • making emergency areas more visible – all emergency areas will have a bright orange road surface, dotted lines on the surfacing showing where to stop, better and more frequent signs on approach and signs inside giving information on what to do in an emergency. These will be installed by the end of spring 2020
  • more traffic signs giving the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency, so you will almost always be able to see a sign. Typically, these will be between approximately 330 and 440 yards apart
  • more communication with drivers. We recognise that we could do more therefore we are committing to an additional £5 million on national targeted communications campaigns to further increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways, how they work and how to use them confidently
  • displaying ‘report of obstruction’ messages automatically on electronic signs, triggered by the stopped vehicle detection system, to warn drivers of a stopped vehicle ahead, this is currently being trialled on the M25 and then a further trial on the M3
  • places to stop in an emergency shown on your satnav by working with satnav providers to ensure the locations are shown on the screen, when needed
  • making it easier to call for help if broken down by working with car manufacturers to improve awareness of the use of the eCall ‘SOS’ button in newer cars to call for help
  • we have changed the law to enable automatic detection of ‘red X’ violations and enforcement using cameras and we will be expanding the upgrade of smart motorway cameras (HADECS) to identify more of those who currently ignore the ‘red X’. The penalty is 3 points on the driver’s licence and a £100 fine, or the driver can be referred to an awareness course
  • an update of the Highway Code to provide more guidance
  • closer working with the recovery industry on training and procedures
  • reviewing existing emergency areas where the width is less than the current 15 foot wide standard. If feasible and appropriate we will widen to this standard
  • a review of the use of red flashing lights to commence immediately. We have listened to the calls for recovery vehicles to be allowed to use red flashing lights. We will commence work immediately on a review

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“The stocktake appears to be a thorough piece of work, and the further measures he is proposing should be reassuring for motorists who’ve been voicing legitimate concerns about the loss of the hard shoulder from our motorways. More motorway capacity can help attract traffic from less safe roads.

“Most of Britain’s drivers will have passed their test long before so-called smart motorways started appearing, so we clearly need a major public information initiative to inform us on their safe use, in particular about getting to a refuge if they can in the event of something going wrong.

“Breaking down on a motorway, whether or not there is a hard shoulder, is a frightening experience, and motorists would be well-advised to check that their vehicle is in good shape well before driving down the slip road.”



Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications – RAC Foundation

[email protected] | 020 7747 3445 | 07711 776448 | 020 7389 0601 (ISDN)

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users.

The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist. All the Foundation’s work is available at: