All motorways with “dynamic”, or part-time hard shoulders are being scrapped amid safety concerns, the government has confirmed. The motorways will instead be converted to all-lane running, which means there is no hard shoulder at all, but the government has promised faster roll-out of radar detection that closes a lane in the event of a breakdown.
Under the plans announced by the Department for Transport (DfT), all-lane running is set to be the new normal for smart motorways, because data suggests they are the safest choice. According to the DfT, drivers are 33 percent less likely to be killed on an all-lane running motorway than on a conventional motorway with a hard shoulder.
That said, even Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted drivers didn’t “necessarily feel safe” on so-called smart motorways with all-lane running. As a result, he also announced a range of new safety measures, including faster roll-out of stopped-vehicle detection technology, which uses radar to alert authorities when a vehicle has broken down and allows them to close the lane.
The DfT says that technology will now be in place on every section of all-lane running motorway by the end of September 2022 – six months earlier than originally planned. And Shapps confirmed the government would stop rolling out any new sections of all-lane running motorway that were not fitted with this technology from the start.
In addition, the DfT says it plans to upgrade “special cameras” 10 months earlier than planned, allowing authorities to spot and prosecute motorists ignoring red X signs and driving illegally in closed lanes. The government has also pledged to install around 1,000 additional approach signs six months earlier than planned, alerting drivers to their nearest place to stop in an emergency. Both measures will come in by the end of September 2022.
“Despite the data showing that fatalities are less likely on All Lane Running motorways than on conventional ones, this doesn’t mean all drivers necessarily feel safe on them,” said Shapps. “All new all-lane running motorways will open with stopped vehicle detection technology in place, as well as a programme to speed up the roll-out of the technology on previously built stretches of all-lane running motorways to next year. This will help us further reduce the risk of accidents on the country’s roads.”
Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, welcomed the news, but said the shift to all-lane running would require a “different mindset” from motorists if it is to be successful.
“We welcome this acceleration in the retrofitting programme,” he said. “While the casualty numbers suggest smart motorways may, overall, be safer than conventional motorways with a hard shoulder that doesn’t mean they can’t be safer still. Ministers acknowledge a gap remains between what the data suggests about the safety of smart motorways and what many drivers believe to be the case: the numbers mean nothing if it’s your car that breaks down and you can’t reach an emergency refuge.
“The challenge for Highways England is not just doing the upgrade work but communicating to road users that all lane running requires a different mindset from drivers – only then will they start to turn public opinion around.”