How safe are smart motorways?

A busy British motorway

The safety of smart motorways is a hot topic

Crucial equipment on smart motorways, including CCTV cameras and signals, has been found to have lost power multiple times recently, leaving drivers at risk.  

Loss of power 397 times in two years 

It’s been revealed that between June 2022 and February 2024, there were almost 400 incidents of the smart motorway network losing power. This makes it difficult to detect breakdowns and can trap drivers in live lanes due to malfunctioning equipment.  

During some of the incidents, CCTV cameras, signals and signs had no power for days at a time. 

There are 400 miles of smart motorways in England. Around half of this has no hard shoulder, which campaigners believe is especially dangerous when it comes to breakdowns.  

Smart motorway equipment is supposed to spot broken-down vehicles and direct traffic out of the lane they are in, which is particularly important on motorways with no hard shoulder. 

Smart motorways ‘no longer safe’ 

A traffic operator working on the smart motorway network says they no longer believe the motorways are safe: “Sometimes it’s faulty. Sometimes they’re repairing something and they’ll turn it off. I don’t always know it’s off”.  

President of the AA Edmund King had this to say: “If you haven’t got that technology, it’s not even a basic motorway because you haven’t got the hard shoulder. It means that you’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.” 

National Highways denies claims 

National Highways, which operates the motorways, denied all claims that smart motorways are dangerous.  

They have said their technology detects 89% of breakdowns, and that smart motorways are the safest roads in Britain. However, this percentage means that there are still 1 in 10 breakdowns missed by the tech.  

If you want to know more, check out our blog about the rise and fall of smart motorways. 

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