Highways England is to install extra lay-bys on smart motorways in an effort to improve safety. (RAC News)
The Government agency hopes the new emergency refuge areas will decrease the likelihood of drivers having to stop in live lanes.
The move will see the maximum gap between lay-bys, ‘where practicable’, reduced from 1.5 miles to one mile
Smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion. The hard shoulder is also turned into an extra traffic lane, with technology deployed to give drivers better information on road conditions ahead.
However, critics argue that this means motorists run the risk of stopping in the live lanes if they are unable to make it to the nearest refuge area.
Research published by the AA in October 2017 found that, in the event of an impending breakdown on a smart motorway, 32% of drivers would only drive up to a quarter of a mile in order to reach an emergency refuge area, before stopping in a live lane. A further 23% of respondents said they would only be willing to drive for up to half a mile.
According to the RAC News report, the decision, which aims to provide ‘greater reassurance to road users’, was made after Highways England carried out a safety review of the new smart motorways.
In a letter to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: “Evidence demonstrates that ALR (all lane running or smart motorways) delivers comparable levels of safety to traditional motorways – including a significant improvement on the M25.”
Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: “While we welcome the news that Highways England is undertaking a targeted programme to install additional emergency areas in locations with the highest levels of potential live lane stops, it doesn’t go far enough.
“Plans to reduce the spacing to one mile between the refuge areas in future schemes falls far short of the Committee’s recommendation that the areas should be spaced at 500-800 metres apart.”