Rollout of smart motorway safety tech brought forward

Radar systems to detect vehicles broken down in live lanes will be installed across the network by the end of 2022, Grant Shapps says.
Radar systems to detect vehicles broken down in live lanes will be installed across the network by the end of 2022, Grant Shapps says.

A measure aimed at boosting smart motorway safety will be completed ahead of schedule, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

The Cabinet minister told MPs that radar technology to detect drivers who break down in live lanes will be rolled out across the entire network by the end of next year.

A deadline of March 2023 was included in an action plan launched by Mr Shapps in March 2020.

Highways England figures show the Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) upgrade has so far only been installed on three sections, totalling 37 miles out of the 500-mile smart motorway network.

Mr Shapps told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the work will be sped up after he “put pressure on” Highways England.

Smart motorway safety was back in the spotlight last month when a coroner concluded the roads “present an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 in South Yorkshire in June 2019 was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba, who ploughed into their vehicles as they stood stationary in lane one following a minor shunt.

But, recording a conclusion of unlawful killing, Mr Urpeth said: “I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy.”

Mr Shapps told the committee he “inherited” smart motorways when he became Transport Secretary in July 2019, and pledged to get “get rid of confusions”.

These include “insane” dynamic hard shoulders, which switch between being used for emergencies and live traffic depending on demand.

The Cabinet minister said hard shoulders cannot be added to all smart motorways as that would require “the equivalent land of 700 Wembley Stadium football pitches”.

Instead, he committed to “making sure that the motorways we have in this country are safer than the motorways that came before them”.

He added: “I want all of our motorways to be a lot better, a lot safer.”

SVD technology is designed to detect a stopped vehicle in a live lane in around 20 seconds through radar units monitoring motorway traffic in both directions.

An alert is sent to a control room operator who can view the incident on a camera, activate lane closure signs on gantries and dispatch personnel.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said it was “good news” that the installation will be finished ahead of schedule.

But he warned that the system “depends on other drivers seeing and obeying red ‘X’ closed-lane signs”.

He went on: “If drivers don’t see these because gantries or verge-mounted signs are too far apart, then there’s still a risk of collision with a stationary vehicle.”