Smart motorways evidence stocktake

Smart motorways evidence stocktake

Putting driver safety first

We are determined to reduce the number of fatal incidents, and injuries, on our roads. The UK has some of the safest roads in the world, and the risk of an accident on a motorway compared to other roads remains low. But we want to make this figure as close to zero as possible, so we are working with drivers to make increasingly busy motorways safer for drivers who use them. 

Adapting to a changing world

Roads are getting busier each year, and traffic delays can have a big impact on people’s lives, the economy and the environment.

In recent years we have:

  • increased the capacity of some of our most congested motorways by transforming the hard shoulders into live traffic lanes
  • introduced emergency areas with phones to call us for help
  • run campaigns to advise drivers about how to keep their vehicle safe and roadworthy, and how to stay safe on our roads

Technology in action

Our most recently upgraded motorways are also known as smart motorways because of the technologies and measures used to provide some of their extra safety features. These include:

  • cameras sending live footage of the network to our control rooms
  • monitoring equipment which enables staff in our control rooms 24/7, 365 days a year to take action to alert emergency services, set signs and signals to send information to drivers, and deploy our on-road traffic officers
  • sensors to set variable speed limits to manage traffic flow
  • emergency areas with phones which immediately connect to our control rooms and tell us the location of the call

Government’s smart motorway evidence stocktake

In 2019, the Secretary of State for Transport asked the Department for Transport to carry out an evidence stocktake to gather the facts on the safety of smart motorways and make recommendations.

The Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan was published in March 2020. It:

  • confirmed that in comparison to other types of road, motorways have by far the lowest number of fatalities
  • emphasised that England’s motorways are some of the safest in the world but also highlighted that there is more that we could do to ensure that smart motorways were as safe as they could be
  • included an eighteen point action plan

Here are some of the main things we have done over the past twelve months to deliver against the action plan and our ongoing commitments.

Full details can be found in the Smart motorways stocktake - First year progress report 2021.

Giving clarity to drivers

With the changes to England’s motorways over the last few years, we recognise drivers want to know more about what driving on motorways without a hard shoulder means for their safety. They deserve to understand what we are doing to help keep them safe and what new technologies can be deployed to assist if things go wrong. 

Since March 2020 we have:

  • launched, in March 2021, a national public information campaign, to give drivers clear advice about what to do if they break down. The ‘Go left’ campaign includes high profile television, radio, print and digital advertising. We’ve also updated our website advice for driving on motorways
  • run a series of further campaigns tackling tailgating, explaining and raising awareness of Red X signs, encouraging drivers to stick to the speed limits. In Summer 2020 we ran a campaign to advise drivers setting off on holiday about how to check the roadworthiness of their vehicles before leaving home
  • worked in partnership with Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and the Department for Transport on a planned update to The Highway Code, with advice for using motorways without hard shoulders and what to do if you break down or have an accident. We ran a public consultation in March 2021
  • signed a partnership agreement with the independent recovery industry in March 2020, encouraging recovery operators to work safely on our network in a standardised way
  • began our action to end the use of dynamic hard shoulders (where we switch hard shoulders on and off depending on traffic levels). Dynamic hard shoulder motorways will move to the 'all lane running' model. This work includes taking five schemes (M42 junctions 4 to 7, M1 junctions 10 to 13, M4 junctions 19 to 20/M5 junctions 15 to 17, M6 junctions 4 to 10a, and M62 junctions 25 to 30) through the preliminary design and survey stages, with all schemes due to complete this stage by June 2021

What we will do next:

  • Our next driver education campaign is set to go live in Summer 2021.
  • The Highway Code is set to be updated in Autumn 2021, subject to Parliamentary approval.
  • We are on target to end the use of dynamic hard shoulder running by March 2025.
  • We will continue to listen to public concerns and tailor our public information campaigns to focus on specific elements of motorway driving, to continue to raise awareness and provide clarity to drivers

Finding a safe place to stop

Drivers are concerned about not being able to find a safe place to stop in an emergency. The hard shoulder is perceived to be a place of safety but, in reality, it does not provide a completely safe place to stop; 1 in 12 motorway fatalities happen there. On smart motorways, as well as the introduction of technology (such as signs and signals that we can vary to display variable speed limits, Red X, and driver information messages and the roll out of radar stopped vehicle detection technology) the hard shoulder is replaced by emergency areas which are wider than a hard shoulder and set back from live traffic lanes. We are committed to providing more emergency areas on new schemes, making them easier for drivers to see and adding better signage.

Since March 2020 we have:

  • completed work to make emergency areas more visible. All existing emergency areas have clearly visible orange surfacing and marked stopping areas, with clearer, easier to understand and more frequent signage
  • changed our road design standards to advise that emergency areas or places to stop in an emergency (junctions or service areas) should be three quarters of a mile apart where feasible, with a maximum spacing of one mile apart. This means all smart motorways entering the design phase would include the full range of smart motorway features
  • installed 10 additional emergency areas on the M25 so there are more places to stop in an emergency
  • made location information for all smart motorway emergency areas available to satnav providers

What we will do next:

  • We will install 1,000 new emergency area signs by September 2022, that’s six months earlier than originally planned.
  • We are accelerating the commitment to complete the monitoring of the impact of additional emergency areas on the M25 and to present a report to the Department for Transport by end of August 2021, four months earlier than planned.
  • We are considering a national programme to install more emergency areas on existing smart motorways where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart.

Being safer in moving traffic

Needing to stop, or being forced to stop, in an emergency on a live lane is very rare. It can of course happen on any road but on high-speed roads it is more frightening, and help needs to be at hand quickly.

Since March 2020 we have:

  • introduced radar stopped vehicle detection technology on the M3, junctions 2 to 4a, and M20 junctions 3 to 5 where the system is being commissioned
  • begun work to install stopped vehicle detection on the M1 between junctions 32 and 35a, and have completed the design stages on three further schemes
  • progressed our work to upgrade enforcement cameras to enable automatic detection of Red X offences which can then be enforced by the police
  • adjusted traffic officer patrol route strategies with the aim of reducing the average time it takes them to attend incidents from 17 to 10 minutes by July 2021 - this is where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart.

What we will do next:

  • work with the DfT to explore making it illegal to switch off automatic emergency braking in vehicles.
  • bring forward stopped vehicle detection work so the technology will be fully rolled out by September 2022 on all lane running sections, instead of March 2023.
  • ensure that all new schemes will have the radar technology before they open. This includes the six schemes currently in construction: M4 junctions 3 to 12, M1 junctions 13 to 16, M27 junctions 4 to 11, M6 junctions 13 to 15, M56 junctions 6 to 8 and M6 junctions 21a to 26.

Stopped vehicle detection upgrades

Read more about how we are delivering this stocktake action

All lane running upgrade

Making journeys simpler

Emergency area width review

M1 and M6 safety reviews

Updating the Highway Code

Highways England response to ORR Quality Assurance of All Lane Running Motorway data report

First year progress report 2021

This report sets out our progress in delivering the Government's 2020 Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan

Smart motorway network map

Routes of smart motorways either completed or in construction