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.”