Smart motorways are the safest roads on the strategic road network, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, according to new analysis from National Highways (NH).

The new data was published this week in NH's Smart Motorway Stocktake – the Second Year Progress Report, along with information on the progress of the installation of additional safety features on the routes.

Smart motorways include the removal of the hard shoulder across large swathes of their routes, known as all lane running (ALR), with drivers required to exit the slow lane once a Red X signal shows, to avoid colliding with broken down vehicles.

They aim to cut congestion and improve the flow of freight around the county but became the subject of a government review last year after rising concerns about a number of fatal accidents occuring on ALR routes.

The review saw DfT order a five year halt to the roll-out of new ALR schemes in January this year and a call for more safety and economic data.

The annual Stocktake reports are part of a number of measures to help improve safety on the routes.  The latest report lists the safety improvements made so far on the Smart Motorway routes. These include additional cameras and additional signs to inform drivers of the distance to the next lay-by in areas where there is no hard shoulder.

Another improvement is the roll-out of radar-based technology that can spot a stopped or broken-down vehicle on over 200 miles of  ALR motorway which will be launched by the end of September 2022.

The report also includes new data which NH says confirms that overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are the safest roads on the strategic road network. The data also indicates that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on ALR and Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways – where the hard shoulder operates only part-time – than conventional motorways.

Nick Harris, NH chief executive, said: "The latest data shows that, overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are our safest roads. We are continuing our work to make them our safest roads in every way. We will continue to build on the work already undertaken and continue to put safety first to help ensure drivers have confidence in the motorway network.

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Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: "We have come a long way in the two years since the smart motorway evidence stocktake and action plan was published. We took the decision to pause the rollout of new smart motorways earlier this year to collect more data and have upgraded hundreds of miles of roads with enforcement cameras, stopped vehicle detection and better signage.

"This progress report shows we continue to make good progress delivering our commitments, including the installation of new safety equipment within the next five months. However, there should be no upper limit on the safety of our roads which is why I, alongside the Transport Secretary, will continue to do everything I can to ensure drivers are as safe and feel as safe as they possibly can.

The report shows that by mid-April 2022 NH had:

  • Upgraded 96% (92 out of 95) of enforcement cameras on smart motorways so they can be used to automatically detect vehicles passing under a Red X or entering a lane beyond a Red X. This potentially allows police to issue £100 fines to drivers without having to spot them in the act, as was the case previously;
  • Installed more than 330 additional signs to better inform drivers of the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency. By the end of September 2022 drivers will almost always be able to see a sign informing them of the distance to the next place to stop in an emergency;
  • Worked to put SVD technology in place on more than 100 miles of ALR smart motorways. The technology is able to send alerts to National Highways’ control rooms which are then investigated by its operators.
  • The report also confirms that National Highways is on course to meet the accelerated timetable – first published last year – to complete the roll-out of this safety equipment and technology by the end of September 2022.

NH added that this means that within the next five months all 95 enforcement cameras will have been upgraded to enable increased compliance with Red X signals and the SVD roll-out on ALR stretches will be completed. These target dates, first set out in the 2021 stocktake progress report, were between six and 10 months earlier than previously planned, NH added.