Smart motorway concept

Smart motorway target reached 14 months late

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A target response time for reaching drivers stranded on smart motorways has been met more than a year later than originally planned, according to reports.

Vehicles stranded on smart motorways without a hard shoulder had to wait an average of nine minutes and 49 seconds before being attended to by traffic officers, National Highways figures seen by the PA news agency have revealed.

The government agency responsible for overseeing English motorways committed to reducing its average response time from 17 minutes in 2020 to 10 minutes by July 2021. However, the goal was only accomplished over a year later. 

The response time relates to stretches of all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways where emergency areas are more than a mile apart.

National Highways said it is reaching stranded drivers more quickly after buying extra patrol vehicles, recruiting additional traffic officers and introducing satellite “outstations” and “park-up points” around the busiest smart motorway sections to make it easier for traffic officers to react to incidents.

“We have made considerable progress cutting the average time it takes us to attend incidents on all lane running motorways, where emergency areas are more than a mile apart," said Duncan Smith, executive director of operations, National Highways. 

In addition, the agency also implemented three other smart motorway safety improvements: retrofitting stopped vehicle detection technology to all smart motorways without a hard shoulder; installing additional signs showing the distance to the next emergency stopping area, and upgrading all enforcement cameras to enable detection of closed lane violations.

“In September, the national average attendance time was nine minutes and 49 seconds, greatly reduced from the original 17 minutes in 2020," Smith said.

“We will continue to work hard to keep average attendance times to 10 minutes on these sections.”

At the end of 2020 there were 369 miles of smart motorways in England, including 168 miles without a hard shoulder. Currently, around 10 per cent of all English motorways are considered smart motorways.

These highways utilise various methods to manage the flow of traffic, such as converting the hard shoulder into a live running lane, allowing a boost in capacity at a lower cost than that of widening roads.

However, there have been long-standing fears about the safety of these roads. According to government figures obtained by BBC Panorama in 2020, 38 people were killed on smart motorways between 2014 and 2019.

Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion said she had repeatedly told the government that smart motorways were "fundamentally unsafe".

"No amount of technology can mitigate the risk of removing huge stretches of hard shoulder," Champion told the BBC.

"It chills me to think that the safety technology is unreliable, magnifying the inherent risks still further. I am appalled that public safety could be jeopardised by the failure of National Highways to keep safety features operational and have raised this repeatedly to successive ministers."

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Breaking down on a motorway can be a traumatic experience. However, if it happens in a live lane, it can be truly terrifying.

“While much progress has been made on hitting other targets originally outlined following the government’s evidence stocktake and average wait times are now down, it’s vital drivers are protected as quickly as possible."

National Highways has insisted that smart motorways are safer than conventional motorways.

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