M25 becomes England’s first ‘smart motorway’

12.00 | 14 April 2014 | | 12 comments

The first of two sections of the M25 to have the hard shoulder converted for use as a permanent traffic lane came into effect on 14 April.

The Highways Agency says that the improvements, spanning 20 miles of the M25, are “part of a new generation of technology-driven improvements on the strategic road network known as smart motorways”.

However, an article in the Daily Mail refers to a “road safety row”, and motoring groups saying it will put motorists at “added risks”.

The two sections are between junctions 23 and 25 in Hertfordshire and junctions 5 and 6/7 on the Kent/Surrey border. The introduction of smart motorways is designed to improve journey time reliability for drivers.

John Martin, Highways Agency senior project manager, said: “We are delighted to be able to open the first part of the northern section ahead of the planned full completion in December 2014. The southern section is completing significantly earlier than planned due to rescheduling of the programme.

“Soon the smart motorway will be complete and we are now asking drivers to get smart and find out more about how to use it, the types of signs and signals they will see and what to do in the event of a breakdown.

“This really is the start of a new age on England’s motorways.”

A Highways Agency public information campaign to help drivers find out more about smart motorways includes information online, on YouTube, in retail outlets such as motorway service areas, radio advertising, and leaflets.

Talking to the Daily Mail, RAC technical director David Bizley, said: ‘We have raised concerns with the Highways Agency about the added risk arising from increased distance between emergency refuge areas, and we are disappointed so far at the absence of action to address them."

Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “England’s first ‘all-lane running’ motorway with no hard shoulder should be treated with caution by drivers. This is the first time the hard shoulder has been ditched completely.

“While we welcome the congestion-busting aspects of the scheme, the AA has significant reservations. Permanent hard shoulder removal means that breakdowns and other emergencies could take place in a live traffic lane rather than the hard shoulder.

“New ‘smart’ motorways depend on drivers complying with the rules of the road and safety advice. Safety also depends on a rapid response to incidents on the part of the road operator and technology.”




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    West Yorks M62 has been smart for a while – setting it up was a nightmare with 31 miles of continuous roadworks at one point. It works well: traffic is slower, steadier and more even, there is less merging into very slow moving traffic with consequent stoppages and rear-enders and my fuel economy has improved on this stretch. I was a sceptic, not now – the set up needs to be tweaked but I would call it a success, most drivers obey the signs and if they don’t they find that those who are obeying the signs are in their way, so they have to slow down as there is no advantage in bad driving, especially when the cameras have got you.

    Tony – North Yorks
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    I was horrified tonight as I was cruising along in the ‘slow lane’ to suddenly see a stationary caravan ahead of me. My heart was in my mouth as I managed to pull into the next lane at the last minute, but was even more horrified to see a young man squatting in this lane trying to fix the wheel problem, also accompanied by a young female looking on anxiously – also in the middle of a fast moving 4 lane motorway. How is this safe? I have seen no publicity, no advice.

    Andrea Bucks
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    I have been unfortunate enough to have had two cars that the engines have just cut out with no warning whatsoever, both times I was lucky and managed to coast onto the hard shoulder. It appears to be a relatively common problem with the more modern cars, no warnings, no misfire just engine stops. If this happens on this stretch of M25 I dread to think what will happen.

    Tony Lindner, Medway
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    Smart motorways is a contradiction in terms. I’m afraid this initiative will prove to be disastrous for road safety and is very likely to lead to a significant increase in deaths and injuries on what is already statistically very dangerous sections of the M25.

    For over forty years, motorists using the motorway system have been safe in the knowledge that if they get into difficulties they can pull over to the relative safety of the hard shoulder. (This statement in itself is another contradiction). But more importantly, motorists have been able to ignore what goes on the hard shoulder and concentrate on their driving. Now we are expecting motorists to cope with yet more distractions having to continually look up at illuminated signage to see that it is still safe to use the inside lane.

    What psychological effect will it have on motorists who will naturally be in a state of constant worry; What if I break down between refuge areas? Are the cameras working? Is the operator on a toilet break or is he or she being distracted?.

    I’m afraid this is nothing to do with smart driving, it is another way of saving money and avoiding the politically contentious need to build wider lane motorways or invest in our non-road transport infrastructure.

    Charles Dunn RoadDriver.co.uk
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    I feel the difficulty comes in the different requirements imposed on the drivers – this isn’t just a smart motorway – it’s ‘All Lane Running’, different to what I’ve seen in the Midlands which is classed as ‘Hard Shoulder Running’.

    This will effectively require drivers on the same motorway journey to switch from the attitude of ‘don’t go into the hard shoulder unless instructed’ to ‘stay in the hard shoulder unless instructed’.

    It’s a subtle shift but could lead to misunderstanding and problems with drivers sitting in the emergency lanes when they’re needed (as previously mentioned) or simply driving in lanes when they’re closed.

    I think these things work well in isolation but I cannot see why 3 (including the separate ‘Controlled Motorway’ system) different operations were chosen instead of a consistent approach. If it’s difficult to explain the differences as transport professionals it will be even more difficult for everyday drivers or those not used to driving in the UK.

    Surely that’s the benefit of the HA running all the network instead of individual authorities?

    Tom – Exeter
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    I agree with the critics, and will do my best to identify these areas and avoid them at all costs because if my vehicle were to break down there would be nowhere safe to stop.

    Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield
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    I was watching a local news program last night in which a man from the Highways Agency said the system works well on the M42. I agree it might work OK on that road where the junctions are a few miles apart, but when you talk about the M25 the junctions are over 10 miles apart and more in some locations. I can see the emergecy services having trouble getting to the incident, let alone garages getting through the traffic to recover any vehicles. Then you have the AA or other breakdown services having to work on the broken down vehicle they will have to hook up the vehicles and tow them to the emergency points.

    Dave Evans, Reading
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    I have yet to see or hear an answer to the question of how the emergency services are able to access the scene of a large scale collision without the facility of the hard shoulder.

    Yes, I know that once the incident is picked up on camera the signs will be set to indicate for vehicles to move off of the ‘hard shoulder, nearside running lane’ but that is fine on a sparsely used motorway. Where all lanes are occupied there will be no space for every vehicle to move over. To my mind there is a distinct danger of lives being lost whilst those who might save them will be sat at the back end of the jam or losing valuable minutes trying to weave around traffic.

    With the motorways and indeed most other roads being devoid of Road Motor Patrol vehicles, motorist discipline will continue to regress. Whilst the criminals who use the roads network are less likely to be arrested for good quality crime as they used to be a number of years back.

    Alan Hale
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    Using the hard shoulder as another lane seems, on the surface, a really good idea. It reduces congestion problems without more roads and lengthy delays for major works. Obviously a system for closing the left lane needs to be installed.

    The installation of speed cameras, though, may risk lives. There isn’t any good quality evidence that speed cameras improve road safety generally and TRL595 in particular (the largest report on speed cameras on motorways) found that, compared to no intervention, there was an increase in serious injuries where average speed cameras were used, and an even larger increase where fixed speed cameras were used. The only intervention where serious injuries were reduced was where there was a police presence.

    With “smart?” motorways we have another chance to run speed cameras within scientific trials but, if this is not done, how will we know which intervention caused what effect?

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    The advice on the M25 is for drivers to stay in their lanes which rather defeats the arguments that they should stay left unless overtaking.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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    “..New ‘smart’ motorways depend on drivers complying with the rules of the road and safety advice..” Therein lies the slight flaw.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Most drivers do not use lanes correctly. One common thing I see is the outside lane completely clogged as drivers seem to think this is their only way to make more progress, while the inner lanes are almost empty, apart from a spurious middle lane hog. Another example of an engineering solution being sought when the problem is caused by poor driving.

    Dave Taylor, Guildford
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