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Radar technology installed across England’s smart motorway network is still not meeting performance targets, according to the country’s roads regulator.

National Highways (NH) came under pressure to fit stopped vehicle detection technology on every all lane running (ALR) smart motorway where the hard shoulder has been converted into a live lane, following a series of fatal collisions and campaigns against the traffic calming measure.

In its first annual assessment of safety performance on the strategic road network, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said NH had installed SVD technology on all existing ALR routes by the end of September – six months ahead of its original March 2023 target.

But it said the technology’s performance was falling short of the requirements NH had set itself: “One issue is false detection rates on ALR smart motorways across all National Highways’ regions, which are substantially above the required maximum,” the ORR said.

“The company’s specification states that false alerts may not constitute more than 15% of all alerts but performance ranged from 63.8% to 83.5% across the regions.”

It added: “The company is seeking rapid improvements to the SVD technology to achieve the required performance levels by the end of June 2023.”

The assessment also said that NH appeared to be on course to achieve its target to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on the strategic road network by 2025 with a 42.1% reduction against the 2005 to 2009 average baseline.

However, it also said casualties could increase if, as expected, traffic levels rise further this year compared to previously lower levels caused by the pandemic.

The report added that it was still too early to gauge the success or otherwise of smart motorways, although it noted: “National Highways has achieved substantial improvements in attendance times for traffic officers and in September 2022 for the first time, National Highways achieved a national average response time of nine minutes and 49 seconds against the target of a 10-minute national average response time on smart motorways, where the existing spacing between safe places to stop in an emergency is more than one mile.”

ORR CE John Larkinson said: “Our previous work on smart motorway data has shown that these roads are as safe as the motorways they replaced but the number of live lane breakdowns are higher.

“Having the SVD radar detection equipment in place sooner than planned has helped to reduce the duration of these breakdowns more quickly but it’s not working as well as it should.

“While it is still too early to have robust data, it’s clear National Highways needs to urgently improve its performance in this area.”

The AA described the radar equipment not working effectively as “a major concern for drivers.”

AA president Edmund King said: “For ‘smart’ motorways to be truly smart and safe then the technology behind them must be fully effective. If there are doubts about the technology, then the motorways are not smart and we should revert to tried and tested methods.

“The radar system should be identifying 80% of stopped vehicles in a live lane and operators checking the alarms within 20 seconds.

“Neither of these targets have been met and it is simply unacceptable,” he added.