The Personal Injury Blog

Staying Safe on Smart Motorways

A recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme has revealed that at least 38 people have been killed on the UK’s smart motorway network since 2015.

What are Smart Motorways?

A smart motorway is a section of road that uses active traffic management techniques to increase capacity and ease congestion by the use of variable speed limits and hard shoulder running at busy times. They already account for about 400 miles of England’s roads including sections of major motorways such as the M1, M6 and M62.

There are 3 main types of smart motorway:

Dynamic hard shoulder running: This system, currently in operation on the M42, M1, M6 and M5, means that the hard shoulder is sometimes used as an extra lane if traffic flows are heavy. Motorways with dynamic hard shoulder running have a solid white line to differentiate from the normal carriageway. The emergency refuges are spaced at 500-800 metres apart.

All lane running (ALR): This type of motorway uses the hard shoulder as a permanent “live” running lane for traffic. All running lanes have broken white lines, with the former hard shoulder only being closed in an emergency. On all lane running motorways the emergency refuges are spaced 2.5km apart.

Controlled motorways: These have three or more lanes with variable speed limits controlled by electronic signs, but a normal hard shoulder that may only be used in a genuine emergency.

What are the Concerns with Smart Motorways?

The most dangerous and controversial aspect of the UK smart motorway network is the removal of the hard shoulder, particularly the ALR type roads. This is because it limits the options of a driver who needs to exit live traffic if they get into difficulty.

The main concern is that vehicles which breakdown on these stretches of road have nowhere to go to protect them until help arrives. With 100 miles of ALR motorways currently live across the UK and plans to increase this by 225 miles, such is the concern that a group of MPs have called for the rollout of such smart motorways to be halted.

However Highways England who oversee the motorways have stated that the technology used on smart motorways has

  • Made journeys more reliable
  • Reduced the number of personal injury accidents by half
  • Reduced the severity of accidents which have occurred

What to do if you break down

If your vehicle malfunctions while in live traffic on a smart motorway, always try to exit the motorway immediately. If that’s not possible, you should follow these steps;

  1. Try not to panic
  2. Use an emergency refuge area if you can reach one safely, exit the vehicle using the left hand door and get behind the safety barrier
  3. If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the free emergency telephone provided in all emergency areas. If you can’t get to the emergency telephone but have a mobile phone with you, call 0300 123 5000.

However if you are unable to move your vehicle and are stuck in live traffic, put your hazard lights on, remain in your vehicle and call 999 and Highways England. As counterintuitive as it might seem, it is safer to stay in your vehicle than to try and cross the motorway on foot.

What are the Implications for Drivers?

It is already an offence for drivers to proceed down a closed carriageway (a lane marked with a red ”X”).  However a recent survey showed that over 23% of drivers disregard the red X and drove in closed lanes. Drivers using closed carriageways face penalties of a fine, 3 penalty points and potentially disqualification from driving.

In circumstances where a collision occurs on a smart motorway drivers could find themselves facing prosecution for careless or dangerous driving and, of course, in more serious cases, for causing death by careless or dangerous driving. However when considering such offences the court has to apply the objective test of a “reasonable driver” and not that of the “perfect driver” to the standard of driving.

With supporting expert evidence identifying the danger and/or complications of smart motorways it could be established that a reasonable driver may well have become confused resulting in a collision. Given that chief officials and MPs are themselves calling smart motorways “too complicated” and “simply not safe” it is certainly conceivable that, depending on the circumstances of the case, this could be raised as a mitigating factor for sentencing purposes.

If you have been injured in a road traffic accident or require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist team of lawyers for advice by calling 0114 218 4000 or emailing us at info@tayloremmet.co.uk

Julie Moore

Julie is a litigation executive at Taylor&Emmet LLP. She assists in a wide variety of cases inducing those concerning accidents at work and RTA's. Julie started working at Taylor&Emmet in 2009, prior to joining the firm she worked at a law firm in Leeds having graduated from the city too. For more information on this topic email julie.moore@tayloremmet.co.uk or call her on 0114 218 4161.

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