Designed to ease traffic flow on UK roads, smart motorways rely on technology to limit congestion and have been dubbed the UK’s ‘safest roads’. However, with technical issues causing frequent incidents, it’s not enough for fleet operators to rely on government technology alone. To truly safeguard drivers and vehicles and encourage proactivity around safety, modern safety solutions and frequent training need to be a key priority for operators.

Managing congestion on certain sections of the roadways in the event of an accident or high levels of traffic by using overhead signage has not always been a success and such traffic management methods have divided public opinion. According to recent reports, there were 392 reported incidents between June 2022 and February 2024, due to technical issues on smart motorways and whilst this number is estimated to be down by 18%, the removal of the hard shoulder is still a concern for many road users.

Although the risk of fatalities has marginally reduced, the progression in vehicle safety features also means that commercial vehicles are becoming safer with implementations such as blind-spot monitoring, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. However, modern solutions such as the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) or driver monitoring system (DMS), are also effective means to improving vehicle and driver safety.

Using AI technology, ADAS can monitor lane departures, forward collisions and offers blind spot detection, alerting drivers to potential risks whilst keeping them and other road users safe. This system is ideal for operators managing large fleets travelling frequently on motorways, providing them with statistics on driving habits and live updates should an incident occur. These statistics can later be used as part of a thorough training and development plan to improve motorway driving, ensuring the safety of their vehicles and others on the road.

DMS is another solution that monitors driver behaviour, but focuses largely on driver distraction from inside the cab rather than activity around the vehicle. The system uses AI cameras installed in the dashboard of a vehicle to monitor phone usage whilst driving, eyelid drooping from drowsiness, smoking and the driver’s gaze drifting away from the road. This information is fed back to operators and drivers are alerted to the risks, ensuring dangerous driving behaviours are immediately resolved.

Reducing the risk of a breakdown for vans and lorries is significantly easier than for other vehicles. Commercial drivers are required to conduct regular vehicle checks before each journey to keep general wear and maintenance under control, minimising the risk of a breakdown on the road. For operators, it’s crucial that these expectations are clearly outlined to drivers and should be incorporated into a wider training programme and regularly monitored to ensure compliance.

Implementing technologies that will not allow a vehicle to be used without the appropriate safety checks being carried out will reduce the likelihood of breakdown in the first place and minimise obstructions on the country’s roads, in particular, on smart motorways that are without the refuge of the hard shoulder.

Breaking down in a live lane on a smart motorway is a daunting possibility, however, through the addition of modern safety solutions and simple changes to vehicle maintenance, becoming the safest vehicle on the roads is within reach. Operators and drivers need to take a proactive approach to maintaining safety, combining government smart motorway technology with vehicle safety systems to significantly reduce the risk of accidents and ensure the safety of every road user.

Paul Lawrence, MD, AddSecure UK