The rollout of smart motorways should be halted until a proper safety review has been completed, it has been claimed.
GEM Motoring Assist says it is regrettable that in spite of the rise of smart motorways, there is still no specific advice for drivers in the Highway Code about how to use them.
The motoring charity describes the situation as unacceptable, given that so many motorists are being penalised every day for being at the wrong speed or in a closed lane.
However, Highways England says the strategic road network continues to be one of the safest in the world, and that its analysis of smart motorway all-lane running schemes continues to indicate that they are as safe as the wider motorway network.
GEM is calling on ministers and highways authorities to stop the rollout of smart motorways until a proper review of safety has been completed – and adequate refuge areas provided for drivers.
Neil Worth, GEM road safety officer, said: “Motorways may be the fastest roads we use, but they are statistically the safest; and there are fewer collisions on motorways than on other roads.
“We are asking ministers and highways authorities specifically to call a halt to their rollout of smart motorways across the country until a proper review of safety has been completed and adequate refuge areas provided for drivers.
“In order to maximise safety, we also urge drivers to ensure they know the rules and signs relating to smart motorways, which are becoming more commonplace.”
Are smart motorways proving controversial?
First introduced in 2014, smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion.
The hard shoulder is turned into an ‘active lane’, with gantry signs displaying a red X indicating if a lane is closed – usually as a result of a vehicle breakdown or in the event of a collision.
Smart motorways have emergency refuge areas a maximum of 1.5 miles apart – around 75 seconds of driving. The refuge areas have an emergency telephone and are wider than hard shoulder to enable drivers to get further away from traffic.
Last month, Highways England was forced to launch a staunch defence of smart motorways, following media criticism.
The criticism surrounded a section of smart motorway on the M1, on which four people have been killed in just 10 months.
Highways England said smart motorways are ‘designed with safety in mind’ – and that driving on such road is ‘simple and intuitive’.