The haulage industry is calling on the government to make smart motorways safer by educating drivers on how to use them and ensuring that those drivers that fail to observe the rules are fined rather than warned.

The call follows transport minister Grant Schapp's decision to launch an enquiry into driver safety on smart motorways last week, prompted by rising concern at the number of deaths that have occurred on smart motorways when all-lane running is in place, where the hard shoulder is being used as a live lane.

Announcing the review in Parliament, Schapps acknowledged that “people are dying” on smart motorways but added that more information is needed on how safety levels on smart motorways compares to traditional motorways.

The DfT review was announced just days after Highways England chief executive Jim O'Sullivan told the Transport Select Committee that the strategy of intermittently using the hard shoulder as a live lane on smart motorways - known as dynamic all lane running - was “too complicated for people to use” and would no longer be rolled out to other routes.

Responding to news of a government review of smart motorways, FTA head of UK policy Christopher Snelling said the association supports smart motorways and welcomed its impact on congestion levels on major motorway routes but added that safety improvements were needed.

Referring to evidence of low levels of driver compliance with the red X symbol that marks closed lanes on smart motorways, Snelling said: “From all the evidence we have seen, smart motorways can be used safely but there needs to be better education and better enforcement of the rule - and some improvements to the infrastructure to make refuges more visible.”

Read more

The RHA has also raised concerns on the safety of smart motorways. Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Of course all-lane running is extremely important if we are to help make productivity gains in the UK economy. But increased efficiency is immaterial if road safety and lives are compromised.

“We have several concerns. The gaps between refuges must be kept to a minimum, the red X signs must be close enough together so that it’s clear a lane is closed and there needs to be a significant public information campaign to ensure all users are aware of how to safely use smart motorways.

He added: “The lack of safe refuge areas for motorway users has been a major concern since the concept was first established – it is vital that there are sufficient areas so that break downs in live lanes are kept to an absolute minimum.

“In the event of a driver falling ill at the wheel there can be nowhere for drivers to pull over. Continuing their journey until they reach the next emergency refuge may not always be an option – so all drivers need to know how to keep themselves and other users safe.”

The Professional Recovery Operators Federation welcomed the safety review this week. It stated: “This time the government and Highways England must take notice of the Transport Select Committee and any inquiry that may take place.

“The current roll out of all-lane running went against the findings of the Transport Select Committee’s review in 2016. Its report stated that Smart Motorways and all-lane running formats were not safe enough to be rolled out.”

In 2016 the Transport Select Committee accused the government of “blatantly ignoring” its safety concerns concerning smart motorways and all-lane running.