Eighteen measures to improve smart motorway road safety, including the removal of dynamic hard shoulders, have been announced in a government review.
The review was launched in January in response to widespread concerns, particularly in cases of vehicle breakdowns where drivers are unable to reach a refuge area of a smart motorway.
The report reveals that an average of 11 people died each year between 2015 and 2018 in such circumstances.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a commitment to rescue stranded motorists within ten minutes of their vehicles stopping, adding that he has been “greatly concerned” by the number of deaths.
The new measures include abolishing the “confusing” dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways, where a part-time hard shoulder can become a live-running lane, to make them permanent live lanes.
Stopped vehicle detection technology deployment will be “substantially” accelerated, with a plan to install it across the entire smart motorway network within the next 36 months.
Highways England traffic officer patrols will be increased where refuge area spacing is longer than one mile to achieve the target of reducing the emergency response time from 17 minutes to 10 minutes.
Maximum spacing between refuge areas will be set at one mile or, “where feasible”, three quarters of a mile.
Ten additional emergency areas will be installed on the M25 and the Department for Transport will be “considering” a national programme to install more emergency areas where places to stop are more than one mile apart.
“A great outcome”
AA president Edmund King said: “The fact that 38 per cent of breakdowns happen in live lanes on smart motorways means drivers have been at risk.
“Tragically, people have lost their lives, and in some cases, coroners have indicated this could have been avoided.
“We applaud the current transport secretary, Grant Shapps MP, for instigating the review and taking this issue very seriously.
“We believe the intention to place emergency refuse areas at every three-quarters of a mile is a great outcome and what we have called for over the last decade.”
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “While it’s welcome that the Government has listened to concerns and undertaken this review, it remains to be seen whether these measures go far enough to protect drivers who are unfortunate enough to break down in live lanes.”