The organisation in charge of the nation’s motorways insists it is “on course” to meet smart motorway safety targets. National Highways says it will increase its capacity to detect vehicles ignoring lane closures, install more signs directing drivers to emergency refuges and improve radar coverage to detect stopped vehicles blocking lanes.

National Highways was effectively forced to make changes amid concerns about the safety of smart motorways, which caused the Department for Transport to announce a “pause” in the rollout of all-lane-running roads until five years of data has been gathered. National Highways then committed to making the roads safer for motorists, and now says it’s on track to introduce those measures as planned.

Chief among the upgrades is a modification to the cameras on smart motorways, allowing them to automatically detect vehicles ignoring the red X signs that denote a lane closure. Almost 100 safety cameras on the National Highways network are set to be upgraded by the end of September this year.

UK smart motorway network

At the same time, National Highways has also confirmed it will roll out radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology, which can automatically spot a broken down vehicle in a live lane and close the lane using the red X signs. This is set to be available on 200 miles of smart motorway by the end of September.

Finally, the organisation has also pledged to add more than 330 extra signs showing drivers where the next emergency refuge area (ERA) will be, informing drivers of where they can stop in the event of an emergency.

UK smart motorway network

“Our network is relied upon by an ever-increasing number of people to work, visit family and friends, do business and much more,” said Nick Harris, the chief executive of National Highways. “It is only right that these drivers and their passengers are safe and, crucially, feel safe on our roads, including smart motorways.

“It is now two years since the Transport Secretary first published the smart motorway stocktake and today’s report shows that we are making good progress delivering on these ambitious recommendations. But we are not complacent. The latest data shows that, overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are our safest roads. We are continuing our work to make them our safest roads in every way. We will continue to build on the work already undertaken and continue to put safety first to help ensure drivers have confidence in the motorway network.”

Meanwhile RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said the changes were welcome, but questioned whether the changes would “reassure” motorists.

“While good progress is being made in upgrading existing smart motorways by installing stopped vehicle detection technology and more refuge area signage, the key question is whether these changes are enough to reassure drivers, many of whom firmly believe that removing the hard shoulder compromises safety. While the government is keen to point out that all-lane-running smart motorways tend to have a better overall safety record than conventional motorways, the safety comparisons with other types of smart motorways are less impressive.”

UK smart motorway network