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First “smart” section of motorway prompts safety concerns

Previous trials of hard shoulder running, such as on the M42, have only been in operation at certain times but under the new changes, two sections of the motorway opening today (14th April) and next month, will, for the first time on a motorway scheme in England, have the hard shoulder converted for use as a permanent traffic lane for drivers. The sections also use enhanced technology to manage traffic flow to improve the reliability of journey times.

The move, which is to be repeated on other motorways, has been heralded by the Highways Agency as improving journey time reliability for drivers.

John Martin, Highways Agency senior project manager, said of the new hard shoulder running: ‘We are now asking drivers to get smart and find out more about how to use it, the types of signs and signals they will see and what to do in the event of a breakdown.

‘This really is the start of a new age on England’s motorways.’

However the AA has said that whilst it welcomes the congestion-busting aspects of the scheme, it has significant reservations, because permanent hard shoulder removal means that breakdowns and other emergencies could take place in a live traffic lane rather than the hard shoulder.

Paul Watters, AA head of roads policy, said: ‘Motorways are our safest roads and that is how we want it to stay. New “Smart” motorways depend on drivers complying with the rules of the road and safety advice. Safety also depends on a rapid response to incidents on the part of the road operator and technology.

‘We know the Highways Agency has gone to great lengths to minimise risk and build-in safety, though we do believe it has cut back too hard on the technology used in the successful M42 pilot scheme. For example, on M25 there will be far fewer gantries and the emergency refuge area spacing is too great at 2.5 kilometres.

‘At least the drivers trapped by regular chronic congestion on the M25 may breathe a sigh of relief but those unfortunate enough to be stopped in lane one may take a sharp intake of breath on occasions.’

RAC technical director David Bizley said: 'We have raised concerns with the Highways Agency about the added risk arising from increased distance between emergency refuge areas, and we are disappointed so far at the absence of action to address them.' 

The initial section of the M25 Smart Motorway is between Junctions 23 (A1M/South Mimms exit) to 25 (Potters Bar) Monday 14 April, with the second stretch to be opened between junctions 5 (Sevenoaks/A21) to 7 (M23 exit) in May 2014

A public information campaign to help drivers find out more about smart motorways includes information online, on YouTube, in retail outlets such as motorway service areas, radio advertising and leaflets. For further information please click here

Watch the video here.

For more of the latest industry news, click here.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.