A road safety group has called for the roll-out of smart motorways to be halted until a comprehensive safety review has been carried out.
GEM Motoring Assist is also demanding that any new smart motorways should have extra emergency refuge areas for drivers who encounter problems, and that the Highway Code is updated to offer guidance on how to use smart motorways.
Around 400 miles of motorways, mostly in England, are currently classed as smart motorways but there are plans to double the size of the network by 2025. The system sees the hard shoulder turned into a normal traffic lane for some or all of the time, with speeds and lane closures managed by overhead warning signs.
Highways England says the network is safe and helps ease congestion but recent months have seen claims that a number of avoidable deaths have been caused by all-lane running.
Proper safety review
Gem Motoring Assist’s road safety officer said: “Motorways may be the fastest roads we use, but they are statistically also the safest; and there are fewer collisions on motorways than on other roads,” he said.
“However, the high speeds used on motorways mean that when there is a crash, it is likely to be more serious. That’s why on average around one in 50 motorway collisions is fatal, compared with one in 70 on all other roads.
“We are asking ministers and highways authorities specifically to call a halt to their roll-out 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.”
GEM also said that it was “unacceptable” that the Highway Code still doesn’t offer any specific advice on using smart motorways.
Neil Worth added: “Understanding how a smart motorway works, and knowing what to do if you are unfortunate enough to experience a breakdown in a stretch of smart motorway, could well prove a lifesaver.“
Highways England, which oversees the motorway network insisted smart motorways are designed to be “at least as safe as the conventional motorways they replace” and said removing hard shoulders eliminates the risks associated with cars stopping in them.
Chief highway engineer Mike Wilson said: “Motorways in this country are among the very safest roads in the world. Highways England would never carry out a major improvement scheme without being confident that we would maintain or enhance this position.
“Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety. The first nine of the latest generation of smart motorways have reduced casualty rates by more than 25 per cent.
“Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.”