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DfT announces smart motorway changes

The Department for Transport and Highways England have announced an acceleration in adopting radar technology to detect stationary vehicles on smart motorways.

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Every new ‘All Lane Running’ (ALR) motorway (a type of smart motorway) will open with technology in place to spot stopped or broken-down vehicles quickly, while all existing ALR motorways will have the technology fitted six months earlier than originally planned, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

The pledge comes as Highways England publishes the Smart motorways stocktake first year progress report 2021, which as set out the progress the agency has made with the sometimes controversial technology.

ALR motorways – which don’t have hard shoulders – are fitted with technology and features not seen on conventional motorways, such as set-back emergency areas, and red X signs on gantries to close live lanes. Radar detection to spot stopped vehicles is also being rolled out.

Highways England says it will install radar technology on all existing stretches of ALR motorway by September 2022, six months earlier than planned. It’s hoped this radar technology will help prevent scenarios such as the one which resulted in two deaths in 2019, when a lorry crashed into a stationary vehicle on the M1.

The DfT however say that data from the progress report, covering the five years from 2015 to 2019 inclusive, shows that ALR motorways are one of the safest types of road in the country. According to the department, drivers on a conventional motorway are 33 per cent more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than drivers on an ALR motorway.

The DfT says the figures have been compiled on a  five year basis because single-year figures are too low, and fluctuate too much to draw conclusions from. For the year 2019, there were nine fatalities on ALR motorways, one less than in 2018, and a total of 15 fatalities on motorways without a permanent hard shoulder, four more than in 2018.

The department says increase in fatalities in 2019 was accounted for by so-called ‘Dynamic Hard Shoulder’ motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time. All of these motorways are being withdrawn and replaced with ALR motorways.

“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 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“That is why I tasked Highways England last year with delivering an action plan to raise the bar on safety measures even higher. This progress report shows the extensive work already carried out, but we want to do more.

“Alongside the raft of measures already undertaken, today I am announcing that 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.

“So-called smart motorways started to be built in 2001 and I am determined to ensure that technology and exacting standards are in place.”

“I want Highways England to continue to be an organisation that listens and puts the safety of road users first,” added Highways England’s Acting Chief Executive Nick Harris.

“We’ve made good progress delivering the improvements set out in the 2020 stocktake, but we are not complacent and are examining ways to improve safety further.

“We will continue implementing the findings, and will work with drivers to make increasingly busy motorways safer for everyone who uses them.”

The DfT has also announced that work has also been completed to make Emergency Areas more visible along with improved signage, and radar technology is now being rolled out along sections of ALR motorway across the country. Additionally, Highways England and the Home Office have continued work so motorists who drive along lanes closed by a red X can be caught and prosecuted.

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