Smart Motorways ‘No Longer Safe’ Says National Highways Whistleblower

A National Highways staff member has deemed the Smart Motorway network is ‘no longer safe’, according to a BBC Panorama investigation

smart motorways

Smart Motorways were heralded as a solution to the UK’s overcrowded motorway network. In reality, they have become one of the most contentious subjects among road users nationwide.

A new investigation by the BBC Panorama program claims that the technology ‘leaves drivers at risk’, citing a whistleblower from National Highways, despite the organisation claiming them to be some of Britain’s “safest roads”.

The investigation by Panorama, via a Freedom of Information Act request, found that between June 2022 and February 2024, there were nearly 400 occasions when motorway technology lost power. The reliance on supposed high-tech cameras and radar systems, designed to spot when a vehicle had broken down in a ‘live’ lane, means that outages such as this could leave a vehicle and its occupants in danger of being rear-ended in a collision. Much of the Smart Motorway network is what is called All Lane Running (ALR), with no hard shoulder and instead emergency refuges spread along the road. ALRs are the locations where breaking down could go from being an inconvenience to a life-threatening situation.

The Panorama investigation uncovered that in a single day, a shocking 174 power outages were reported across the network and that for five days in July 2023, there were no signs, signals, cameras or radar at junction 18 on the M6. It also found out that in autumn 2023 there were no signs, signals or CCTV for five days at junction 22 of the M62. In total, it revealed that between June 2022 and February 2024, there were 392 reports of outages in total.

Smart Motorway Power Outages Pose Lethal Risk to Road Users

The investigation also reports that a National Highways staff member who worked on the Smart Motorway network no longer feels the roads are safe, claiming "Sometimes it's faulty," going on to say "Sometimes they're repairing something and they'll turn it off. I don't always know it's off."

The UK government decided to halt the roll-out of any new Smart Motorway construction citing financial and safety concerns. National Highways operational control director, Andrew Page-Dove, stands by the roads, saying "Safety is our highest priority and our motorways are statistically some of the safest in the world”.