Smart motorways: maximum gap between lay-bys to be reduced

14.26 | 25 January 2018 | | 4 comments

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.”


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    Once again we are putting people’s lives at stake to save money. Most motorways should be 4 lane plus the hard shoulder,for safety.
    When the M6 link near Walsall was designed the RAC and the AA both said it should be six lanes each way . But this advice -recommendation was dismissed.

    Ken Hannaford-mason, Cannock
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

    Highways England has always maintained that there is no ‘safety deficit’ when Smart M-ways are compared to those of the conventional sort. This move to increase the number of emergency areas is a tacit admission that they are wrong.

    The survey about drivers only being prepared to drive so many metres to an emergency area is rubbish, as the vehicle itself often dictates how far one can travel to reach a safe spot. I am prepared to drive a mile, but if my vehicle suffers engine failure it simply doesn’t matter what I am prepared to do.

    All one needs to do is ask the personnel from the emergency services whether in their experience Smart motorways are less safe.

    David, Suffolk
    Agree (22) | Disagree (1)

    If Smart Motorways were the right thing to do we would have done them before the credit crunch, not just as a cost saving measure.

    Colin, Midlands
    Agree (19) | Disagree (3)

    Proposing a few more lay-bys is an acknowledgement by Highways England that improvements are needed for safety but it is not enough. Anyone who has broken down and been on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway for a while knows just how vulnerable it feels, particularly if you have your family with you. The possibility of breaking down in the live traffic lane of a smart motorway doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Come on Highways England, stop this “value-engineered” design nonsense and do the job properly in future by adding proper lanes if you want to widen motorways. Or don’t bother. No more half-way house measures surrounded by smoke and mirrors statistics please.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (27) | Disagree (2)

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