Sunday Telegraph on stopped vehicles


29 June 2023


Our response to a Sunday Telegraph article on stopped vehicles which appeared on 25 June 2023.

On Sunday, an article in the Telegraph stated: “Stranded drivers are less likely to be killed or seriously injured on motorways with hard shoulders, National Highways has admitted.”

It goes on to say: “In a response to a coroner’s warning that smart motorways pose a threat to lives, highways bosses said the chances of collisions involving “stopped vehicles” being hit are “greater on all lane running” (ALR) routes where there is no hard shoulder.”

The newspaper was quoting from a response provided by National Highways to a coroner on a tragic incident, where our thoughts remain with family and friends and all those affected.

National Highways was asked by the coroner to respond to a report on action to prevent future deaths.

And the response highlighted the many actions being taken to improve safety, with National Highways committing £900 million to safety improvements on its existing smart motorway network, including building additional places to stop in an emergency and installing new technology to spot stopped vehicles.

It remains the case that the latest published data (2016-2020) shows that, overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are our safest roads.

Contrary to the principal claims made in the article, National Highways has in fact previously reported that the risk of a live lane collision between a moving and a stopped vehicle, while still rare, is greater on ALR and dynamic hard shoulder motorways, but the risk of a collision involving only moving vehicles is lower.

The smart motorways stocktake second year progress report stated this, as did the first, and it reported that while stopped vehicle collisions remain a very small proportion of all collisions (from 2.36% for controlled motorways to 2.99% for conventional motorways to 5.26% for ALR motorways), stopped vehicle collision and casualty rates are lowest for conventional and controlled motorways.

Meanwhile the recent National Highways response to the coroner states:

As reported in our smart motorways stocktake second year progress report, the risk of a collision between a moving and a stopped vehicle is greater on ALR and DHS motorways than on other motorway types, but the risk of a collision involving only moving vehicles is lower. The concern raised focuses on the lack of a hard shoulder on an ALR motorway, and the subsequent question of where a driver can safely stop in an emergency. Hard shoulders do not eliminate the risk of collision, and 1 in 14 of all deaths on motorways happen on hard shoulders (based on 2016-2020 data). The hard shoulder is perceived to be a place of safety, but in reality it does not provide a completely safe place to stop.

In terms of enhancing safety, Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology has been installed on the stretch of the M1 smart motorway through Northamptonshire since this tragic incident. The system sends alerts to operators in our control rooms who can set signs and signals which close lanes and they can send assistance to help the driver and passenger of the stopped vehicle. 

In response to the ‘smart motorway stocktake and action plan’ published in March 2020, National Highways committed to a number of other actions to further raise the bar on smart motorway safety. By the end of September last year, it was announced that National Highways had successfully delivered actions from the stocktake including:

  • Installed SVD on every ALR smart motorway, including the M1 in Northamptonshire, six months earlier than planned. 
  • Installed more than 700 new signs so drivers will almost always be able to see a sign informing them of the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency.
  • Ensured all enforcement cameras were upgraded to enable the detection of vehicles that pass under a Red X or enter the lane beyond a Red X. This will further increase the safety of drivers, their passengers, road workers and emergency services.
  • Met a commitment to reduce the average time it takes traffic officers to attend incidents from 17 to 10 minutes on ALR motorways where emergency areas are more than one mile apart.

In addition, National Highways has committed to installing 150 additional emergency areas on ALR smart motorways. This will represent around a 50% increase in emergency areas by 2025 compared to January 2022, giving drivers added reassurance.

National Highways has committed to invest £105 million over the next two years to build further resilience into our operational technology, including replacing older CCTV cameras.