New ‘Smart’ motorways deemed unsafe by Highways England

Smart motorways have been called unsafe in a Highways England report uncovered by the AA

THE AA has uncovered a report, first published in 2016, that claims that so-called Smart motorways could be 216% more dangerous for those broken down than a conventional stretch of road with a hard shoulder.

The report is starkly at odds with the information that was handed to the Transport Select Committee back in 2016 when they were told that Stopped Vehicle Detection Systems (SVDS) would be rolled out across all sections of Smart motorways.

AS it is the SVDS is only in place on a few parts of the road network, with some not due to be completed until 2022 – and that’s if it runs on schedule.

The main danger is that Smart motorways tend to run on all lanes, in fact they are called ALR or All Lanes Running roads. If a motorcycle, car, truck or van were to break down, there is very little room to manoeuvre the vehicle into a safe position – with motorcycles being the most vulnerable of all on the list.

The second problem comes from the SVDS’ not being in place to warn Highways England of the danger, enabling them to turn on the lane closure signs (if they are actually adhered to) and prevent the stopped vehicle from becoming a casualty in an RTA.

In addition to this the AA has learned that of the stretches of motorway that do have the SVDS fitted, it’s sometimes taking too long to activate the safety measures in place. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Taking three minutes to set the red-X (the sign on the gantry that closes lanes and advises of stopped vehicles) is too long for someone in a broken-down vehicle to wait.”

He goes on to say, “Expecting someone to wait in a dangerous and life-threatening position for 20 minutes is simply inexcusable.”

Max Brown, head of smart roads at Highways England stated: “The evidence is clear that Smart motorways improve safety, with our automatic stopped vehicle detections systems. The latest generation of Smart motorways has helped to improve safety by at least 25%.”

Speaking about the other sections of smart motorway that don’t have the automated SVDS, he said: “Meanwhile, we are looking at how we could provide the same benefits on all our recently opened Smart motorways upgrades and work on installing as SVDS on the M3 motorway in Surrey and Hampshire is already underway.”


Every day I see incorrect information on the gantries. Random up and down speed limits. Speed limits increasing through hazards. Vehicles travelling on the hard shoulder when thay shouldn't be as there are never any X's overhead on part time hard shoulders. I've seen vehicles broken down in live lanes with no overhead warnings. Every morning as the traffic slows to a standstill in the left 2 lanes approaching the M25 exit on the M1 southbound the speed limit goes UP. Imagine breaking down where there is no hard shoulder on a dark wet evening with a car full of kids. How the hell are you going to get them to safety. The early minutes following a serious accident are crucial yet I see emergency vehicles struggling to force their way through 4 lanes on stationary traffic. The emergency lay-bys are far too short. If there is a lorry in it already you won't fit. Even if it is vacant you have to slow massively in a live lane to get in. Then there is no acceleration lane. On top of all of this the government have increased the speed limit of 44 tonne lorries by 20%. Hard shoulders provide a safety net much in the same way as seatbelts and airbags. You rarely need any of them but when you do they can save lives.

Journeyman's picture

This is a shameless attempt by the AA to drum-up trade by making people believe that smart motorways lead straight to Hades and that they therefore need to purchase breakdown cover.

Smart motorways are a huge, much-needed improvement on their predecessors as can be seen from the Highways England press release on GOV.UK:

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