Road Safety News

Smart motorways ‘causing serious problems’

Tuesday 16th February 2016


Senior traffic police officers are saying that smart motorways are ‘causing serious problems for road users’, according to a RAC news report.

Formerly known as managed motorways, smart motorways use a range of technology to vary speed limits in response to driving conditions. They are divided into three different types: controlled motorway, all-lane running and hard shoulder running.

The RAC article says police officers are warning that ‘all-lane running’ stops emergency services from getting to the site of an accident and prevents police from pulling over drivers. It also suggests that HGV drivers from overseas, unaware of the changes, have ended up taking their breaks in the lay-bys installed for motorists to use in an emergency.

The Metropolitan Police is quoted as saying the decision to drop the hard shoulder has resulted in ‘significant risks’ for motorists.

The findings appear to contradict evaluation published recently by Highways England, which concluded that smart motorways are having ‘no adverse effect on safety’.

Just last month Highways England published two interim reports evaluating the all-lane running sections on the M25, J5 to 6 and J23 to 27, which also showed that average journey times had reduced in both directions.

Highways England says that smart motorways are ‘central to the modernisation of England’s motorways’ and have been designed to reduce congestion, improve journey time reliability and lead to shorter journey times, while at the same time maintaining safety.


In December 2015, the Transport Committee launched an inquiry into the impact of all-lane running to inform how future policy should evolve.

Photo: Highways England via Flickr used under Creative Commons


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In response to Pete from Merseyside:

"And I also note that Dave claims "The speed cameras may also contribute to lack of attention and tiredness on motorway journeys." What is the theory behind such a statement?"

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that if you're constantly looking down at your speedometer you aren't looking at the road.

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

In response to Dave Finney, the two M25 sections chosen for all lane running were pretty average in safety terms and having listened to Dave for many years asking for controlled experiments then we might actually have one here or as close to one as you will get on a public road! Congestion was the driving force not pre-scheme casualties.

And I also note that Dave claims "The speed cameras may also contribute to lack of attention and tiredness on motorway journeys."

What is the theory behind such a statement? Is the antithesis to drive at 100mph to pep up those reflexes but just hope you are sharp enough to not hit a broken down car?
Pete, Merseyside

Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

May I make comment once more on the causation of numerous accidents which is overlooked by the police on their stats 19 forms. That is as clearly shown on the above picture that many of the vehicles are driving far too close to the vehicle in front so that the drivers are unable to guarantee stopping in the distance seen to be clear at the front. They may be tailgating or not, but definitely not driving with reasonable attention or consideration for other road users. By the 2 second rule they should be some 120 ft behind the vehicle in front. Some of them look to be only 20 or a generous 30 ft behind.
R. Craven, Blackpool

Agree (14) | Disagree (1)

Thanks Nick, I did search briefly but didn't find the reports. Yes, Atkins seem to produce good reports. My interest is mainly in the M6 and M42, where all lane running doesn't seem to work or be run as well as on the M25.
Paul Biggs, Staffordshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

You might have it right Dave. Cars particularly travelling in a reduced speed area will collect together but so will they in any situation no matter what speed is set as the default. Whether it's 3 or 4 lanes makes no difference to them. So with slower speed comes closer driving conditions which we all know can lead to a possible increase in incidents and indeed possible multiple pile up. Also I think that HGVs should be required to drive in the first two lanes and not in three, as using three lanes will cause greater tailbacks and frustration to other drivers.
R.Craven Blackpool

Agree (15) | Disagree (2)

I think you will find that while the reports were commissioned by Highways England, they were prepared by the consultants Atkins, one of the world's largest and most respected engineering consultancies.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (5) | Disagree (7)

With 33% more space, all-lane running might be expected to cause a significant KSI reduction. Furthermore, previous KSI rates are a likely factor in where to implement all-lane running therefore a further large KSI reduction might be expected due to the site-selection effect, but this appears not to have occurred.

We must conclude that some factor might be increasing KSI rates such that no overall change is experienced and that factor might be the speed cameras. Without them, differing vehicle speeds will tend to spread vehicles out over the space available but, with speed cameras, vehicles might tend to travel in bunches thereby negating the positive benefit of the extra space. The speed cameras may also contribute to lack of attention and tiredness on motorway journeys.

The solution is to deploy speed cameras on selected "smart" motorways within scientific trials called "RCT"s. RCTs are the most accurate test available and they are cheaper than trying to produce estimates of what effect might have occurred.

All-lane running is an important experiment with peoples lives at stake, let's produce the evidence that proves the effects of our interventions such that lives really are saved.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (9)

Highways England shouldn't be marking their own exam papers. There are positives to all lane running, but my main concern is the lack of competence in the way it is operated by Highways England - they seem intent on holding up traffic 24/7 rather than operating all lane running at peak times. Hence the new PC term 'reliable journey times.' I've witnessed a lot of confusion when the system is turned off - there is no red X over the hard shoulder even though it is closed - but some vehicles still use it. I've never heard of any serious incident caused by lane running on the hard shoulder, but twice in one week on the M6 J6-J5 I found myself confronted by a broken down vehicle on the hard shoulder during all-lane running - obviously there is a time lag between a breakdown on the hard shoulder and the control room closing it.
Paul Biggs, Staffordshire

Agree (21) | Disagree (2)

As someone that uses these roads on a daily basis, (M62 & M1) I can guarantee that they do not reduce journey times but increase them. I would expect them to improve journey times at peak times, but from experience this is not the case with stationary traffic a daily occurrence. As for safety I have only once had a problem and managed to get to the refuge but it was a very scary experience. If speed cameras every 500m makes things safer why isn't the collision rate in freefall?
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

Agree (18) | Disagree (2)

Just to be clear, our earlier report on the Highways England evaluation says:

With regard to safety, in both cases there has been a “small but not statistically significant reduction in collision rate”. This leads Highways England to conclude that “while the reduction is not significant, the results provide an initial indication that safety has not worsened as a result of the scheme”.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (11) | Disagree (3)

Hard shoulders were installed to improve safety. Take them away and safety is bound to suffer. Highways England are quoted with regard to congestion and journey times - their silence on the effects on safety are telling.
Eric Bridgstock, St Albans

Agree (28) | Disagree (5)