UK government puts new “smart” motorways on hold

  • February 2, 2020

The UK government has stopped the roll-out of motorways modified so that the emergency lane or hard shoulder is used as a running lane.  The review of the policy was announced after figures revealed in a BBC News documentary showed a significant number of deaths had occurred following incidents of cars stopped in the middle of the road.

The original safety case in the UK for so-called “smart” motorways was based on a trial that included emergency refugees for vehicles in trouble every 500m and a lower speed of 40 mph (64 km/h).  But modified motorways delivered since ended up with refuges every 1.6km and could run at the usual UK motorway speed limit of 70 mph (113 km/h).   A promised stopped-vehicle detection system was also not put in place across the network.

ETSC’s UK member PACTS has written to the government calling for more frequent spacing of emergency refuges, rapid introduction of stopped-vehicle detection as well as better enforcement and education for drivers.

The Netherlands has developed a similar system of active traffic management on motorways covering roughly 100km of short sections of road across the country.  But refuge areas are placed every 500-1000m and there are cameras covering the entire system to enable rapid response for stopped vehicles.  The system can only be activated during congested periods, and cannot be used if there is reduced visibility due to adverse weather conditions.