Traffic on UK motorway

Radar safety systems missing from majority of smart motorway network

Image credit: Dreamstime

Analysis by Highways England has shown that less than five per cent of England’s smart motorway network has installed radar technology to detect drivers who break down in live lanes.

Smart motorways use live traffic management to relieve congestion, such as via flexible speed limits and opening the hard shoulder for use as an extra lane. They can be found on sections of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M25, M42 and M62.

Following a number of fatal collisions on smart motorways – caused by drivers breaking down in traffic and being unable to pull into the hard shoulder – MPs investigated the issue and published a report characterising them as “death traps” which had been introduced carelessly and caused avoidable fatalities.

The radar-based Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) system – which is installed on roadside to detect stranded vehicles and alert an operator, who can then dispatch personnel and activate lane closure signs – had at the time only been implemented on two sections of the M25. This should have been in place from the outset, MPs said, calling for the smart motorway rollout to be halted until it could be done safely. Soon afterwards, the Transport Secretary launched an 18-point plan to deal with these safety issues.

Highways England pledged to roll out the safety system on all motorway stretches where hard shoulder has been converted into permanent running lanes.

Figures from Highways England show that the SVD system has only been installed on three sections of motorway stretching just 40 miles (approximately) in total. This represents less than five per cent of England’s smart motorway network.

The Department of Transport said that the Secretary of State had called an “urgent meeting” with Highways England to discuss its progress with implementing the safety plan.

“We are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible and have already completed some of the actions set out in the Transport Secretary’s smart motorway safety action plan,” said a Highways England spokesperson. “This includes installing more of the technology which will detect if a vehicle has stopped in a live lane, typically within 20 seconds. We are continuing the implement the further actions as set out in the plan.”

Earlier this week, a coroner concluded that smart motorways present an “ongoing risk of future deaths” after assessing the case of two men who died on the M1 in South Yorkshire in June 2019 while their vehicles were stationary on the motorway.

Work converting part of the M20 in Kent into a smart motorway is due to begin this month, following the completion of words in Surrey and Hampshire.

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