Highways England, the government body charged with maintaining and operating roads across England, has issued a response to concerns over smart motorway safety.
Earlier this week, the UK’s Automobile Association revealed the existence of a 2016 Highways England report on smart highway safety, retrieved via a Freedom of Information request, which highlighted significant safety concerns over motorways on which the hard shoulder had been removed. The smart motorway safety report indicated troublingly high response times on stationary vehicles in motorway lanes, with vehicles which broke down on an All Lanes Running (ALR) motorway forced to wait an average of 17 minutes before the lane they were in was closed.
In its response, Highways England draws attention to the information on smart motorway safety available on its website; and notes that much of the data referenced in the report was collated three years ago, before a wider rollout of safety measures. The statement notes that, while many smart motorway schemes phase out the hard shoulder, smart motorways do have emergency areas – spaced a maximum of 1.5 miles (2.41km) apart – where a vehicle may stop relatively safely without disrupting the flow of traffic; and that stopping on the hard shoulder is not in itself particularly safe, with more than 100 people killed or injured on hard shoulders each year.
Chief Highway Engineer Mike Wilson said: “Motorways in this country are among the very safest roads in the world. Highways England would never carry out a major improvement scheme without being confident that we would maintain or enhance this position. 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.”