UK Government agency Highways England has announced plans to develop approximately 400 miles of further smart motorway despite protests over safety.

Motoring groups have contested Highway England’s decision, claiming that it will create risks for drivers.

These groups argue that drivers will be forced to stop their vehicle ‘in live’ lanes in the absence of a hard shoulder, increasing the potential for collisions, reported The Sunday Times.

In support of their claim, the motoring groups cited the Highways England’s data that revealed that approximately 16 collisions occurred on 416 miles of smart motorways involved stopped vehicles in 2017.

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This was proportionally more than the 29 collisions on the hard shoulder across the rest of England’s 1,800 miles motorways.

Despite not featuring any hard shoulders, the agency claimed that smart motorways will be safer due to the presence of clearly highlighted emergency laybys.

“Statistics are telling us that the safety record on smart motorways is arguably better than what we see on conventional motorways.”

The agency intends to nearly double the length of smart motorways from 416 miles to 788 miles by April 2025.

These will be called ‘digital roads’ with an increased speed limit from 50mph to 60mph to improve traffic flow.

A recent safety assessment of a section of smart motorway on the M25 in Kent revealed that accidents fallen by 29%, with 9.3 accidents registered per 100 million miles.

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told the Times: “With the volume, speed and size of modern cars, the refuge areas are safer than the hard shoulder. You will not get a car or truck drifting into the emergency refuge area whereas they can and do drift into the hard shoulder.

“We are now well into smart motorway operation and the statistics we have are reliable. They are telling us that the safety record on smart motorways is arguably better than what we see on conventional motorways.”

Currently, smart motorway systems operate on parts of the M1, M4, M6, M25, M42, M60 and M62.