08 October 2021

New report says ‘all-lane-running’ smart motorways are safest in the UK

If you’re confused about smart motorways and when or when not to use the hard shoulder, you are not alone. Here, we explain what’s happening, what’s legal and how things are changing…
A new report on the safety of smart motorways, where the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a live lane, has just been published, concluding that the all-lane running highways are the safest in the UK, compared to the more confusing dynamic hard shoulders, which are only used as an extra lane during periods of congestion and are currently being phased out.
The independent report, entitled Quality Assurance of All Lane Running motorway data, reviewed safety data from National Highways and has been produced by the UK’s Office of Rail and Road, drawing on its expertise as the monitor of England’s strategic road network.
The report was commissioned following recent inquests into deaths on smart motorway schemes and a coroner’s conclusion that smart motorways presented ‘an ongoing risk of future deaths’. There were 14 fatalities on smart motorways in 2019, 11 in 2018 and five the year before. The AA, road safety charities and police and crime commissioners have also all voiced serious safety concerns.
The Government and National Highways have admitted the dynamic system is confusing and has promised to ‘convert all existing dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways into ‘all-lane-running’ by the end of March 2025. This will ensure there is only one type of smart motorway, without a permanent hard shoulder.
Earlier in the year, the UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, had reiterated plans to phase out dynamic hard shoulders altogether, but declared it was ‘wrong’ to roll out all-lane-running motorways without the necessary ‘stopped vehicle detection’ system installed. He then brought forward the date for completion of a new ‘stopped vehicle detection’ network on all smart motorways from March 2023 to the end of 2022.
He also admitted that, due to the amount of land that would need to be purchased to add lanes to existing roads, smart motorways remain the only viable way to increase capacity at scale on the network. Currently, the UK has 50 sections of smart motorway, with another eight under construction.

Traffic Technology Today: New report verifies that all-lane running smart motorways are safest roads in UK
Highways Magazine: MPs investigate 'genuine worries' about smart motorways
Traffic Technology Today: Confusion reigns over UK’s smart motorways new survey reveals, as Transport Secretary brands them ‘wrong’
Highways Magazine: Highway Code set for smart motorway update

The new report also follows earlier findings by Halfords, the UK’s largest retailer of motoring and cycling products and services, in which they identified that 1 in 4 people were confused about regulations on smart motorways, mistakenly believing that the hard shoulder can be used if there is no speed limit showing above, which is, in fact, illegal.
To reiterate, by the end of 2025, there will be only one type of smart motorway, without a permanent hard shoulder, providing a more consistent experience for motorists. In the meantime, it is important for road users to understand how dynamic hard shoulder motorways operate, as they will continue to be a feature of the road network until the necessary conversion works are completed.

Using a dynamic hard shoulder
On those smart motorways which are still using dynamic hard shoulders, these are the rules: if the hard shoulder  has a speed limit sign above it, the lane can be used. If it has a red ‘X’ displayed above it, the lane is closed and should not be used. It now reverts back to a hard shoulder. Halford’s survey revealed that two fifths of drivers didn’t realise you can be fined three penalty points for driving in a lane marked with a red ‘X’ on a smart motorway.
Proposed changes to Highway Code
While supporting National Highway’s findings that smart motorways are the safest roads in the country in terms of fatalities, the report contains several recommendations for changes to the Highway Code to strengthen people’s understanding of road safety.
As and when the guidance on dynamic hard shoulders becomes out of date in the Highway Code, it will be removed. In addition, proposed updates on the use of ‘all-lane-running’ smart motorways will help to clarify issues: these include what to do in the event of a breakdown, the protocol for using and leaving an emergency refuge area and signage around smart motorways.
The proposed changes state that when exiting an emergency area, which are located along motorways, ‘you MUST call the operator using the emergency telephone provided and follow the operator’s advice. A lane may need to be closed so you can safely rejoin the motorway’. If you break down, the advice is: “if you can’t get into the left lane, stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelts and hazard warning lights on and call 999 or press the SOS button if your vehicle has one and ask for the police.
It’s worth noting that MUST/MUST NOT rules relate to legislation and if you breach them you commit an offence, while SHOULD/SHOULD NOT or DO/DO NOT are advisory and breaching them is not an offence.
As TM specialists, our job is to stay abreast of change, new legislation and compliance requirements. To find out how TSM’s expertise can help with your traffic management project, whether high speed 12AB works or 12D streetworks, please either call us on 01564 700241 or email us at: enquiries@tsmltd.co.uk