Smart motorway

A smart motorway (formerly managed motorway and active traffic management), also known in Scotland as an intelligent transport system, is a section of motorway in the United Kingdom (primarily in England) that employs active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase capacity through the use of MIDAS technology including variable speed limits and occasionally hard shoulder running and ramp metering at busy times. They were developed at the turn of the 21st century as a cost-effective alternative to traditional carriageway widening, with intended benefits ranging from more reliable journey times to lower vehicle emissions.[1][2][3] However, despite the risk of a collision occurring between two moving vehicles being found to be decreased, there has been an acknowledged rise in the incidence of collisions involving vehicles where at least one was stationary in the first few years following the widespread removal of the hard shoulder on the country's busiest sections of motorway.[4] Smart motorways garnered intense criticism from politicians, police representatives and motoring organisations, particularly from 2020 onwards, after a surge in near miss incidents and dozens of fatalities were revealed.[5][6]

A control room for the M25 J5-7 Smart Motorways scheme, 2014

The term controlled motorway is sometimes used for schemes that use variable speed limits without hard-shoulder running (for example, the M25 London Orbital between junction 27 and junction 30).

HistoryEdit

The traffic management technique, including hard shoulder running, was first used in its full specification in the UK on the M42 motorway in the West Midlands in 2006.[7][3] A higher speed limit of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) was trialled on the southbound carriageway between junctions 4 and 3A from 2008 (a 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) increase on the previous maximum permissible speed).[8]

In 2007 plans were announced by the then secretary of state for transport, Ruth Kelly, to extend the scheme to two sections of the M6 motorway near Birmingham (4-5 and 8a-10) by 2011 at a cost of £150 million.[9][10] The emergency refuges were to be extended to every 800 metres (0.50 mi) on the roll out.[11] A study into the use of ATM on the M1, M4, M20 and M25 motorways was also announced,[9] however the Department for Transport had decided to proceed with a scheme to widen sections of the M25.[12]

A £2 billion contract was announced to extend the scheme to sections of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M60 and M62 in February 2010[13] with a further announcement by the new government in October 2010.[14] The contract was awarded to four delivery partners Balfour Beatty, Carillion and joint ventures BAM Nuttall/Morgan Sindall Group and Costain Group/Serco.[15] In January 2012, Carillion won the contract for M6 junctions 5 - 8 near Birmingham for £126 million.[15]

From 2013 the current term smart motorway was used by the Highways Agency (now National Highways) to promote the technology to road users.[16]

In January 2018, the contracts previously awarded to Carillion were taken on by Kier, following the former's entry into compulsory liquidation.[17]

In April 2021, the government announced that new smart motorways would include radar, to detect vehicles which had stopped, and additional cameras to aid the detection (and subsequent prosecution) of motorists using lanes which are marked as being closed. The government stated that existing smart motorways would have these additional safety features installed by September 2022.[18]

MapEdit

 
A map of the UK's smart motorway system built from publicly available data of constructed and planned smart motorway systems

The map in this section visually represents the operational and under construction elements of the UK's smart motorway system as of June 2017.[19]

EffectivenessEdit

In 2007 it was estimated that ATM could be introduced within two years at a cost of around £5-15 million per mile[20] as opposed to 10 years and £79 million per mile for widening.[21][22]

The M42 scheme was initially run as an experiment and a Highways Agency report into the first six months of the scheme showed a reduction in variability of journey times of up to 27%.[9][11] The journey time statistics can be broken down to show that northbound journey times were reduced by 26%, equating to an average reduction of 4 minutes as compared to the period when the variable speed limits were on, but the hard shoulder was not being used, and 9% southbound (equating to 1 minute) during the afternoon rush hour.[23] The report also indicated a fall in the number of accidents from over 5 a month to 1.5 per month on average.[9][11] The Agency did state that normally accident statistics should be compared over a 3-year period, so the initial results should be treated with caution. They also stated that no accidents had been caused by hard shoulder use as a normal lane.[23] The report also stated that there had been a 10% fall in pollution and 4% fall in fuel consumption.[9] The report also indicated a compliance rate of 98% to the indicated speed limits when using the hard shoulder.[23] For comparison, before the introduction of mandatory speed limits at road works, the compliance rate was 10% as opposed to 89% afterwards, showing a similar effect.[24]

CriticismsEdit

The Campaign for Better Transport argued that whilst it would reduce the need for widening schemes, it did nothing to reduce traffic and CO2 emissions. Friends of the Earth criticised the scheme as "widening on the cheap" and also pointed to a possible increase in vehicle emissions.[9] Highways England argue that ATM reduces the environmental impact in regards to widening as it is carried out within the existing boundaries of the motorway as well as a possible improvement in local air quality due to smoother traffic flow.[25]

The RAC cited a study in the Netherlands that showed drivers using the hard shoulder when they were not permitted, increasing the risk of a collision for vehicles stopped. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also expressed concern that emergency services would take longer to reach an incident.[22] The Highways Agency rejected this concern based on the 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of dual carriageway that does not have a hard shoulder.[26] Disability groups were concerned that some drivers would not be able to access the emergency phones or even exit their vehicles, leaving them at increased risk.[26] Ruth Kelly, former Secretary of State for Transport stated that these schemes were useful, but that motorway widening would still be considered where it was appropriate.[22]

The scheme has attracted criticism from motoring organisations such as the AA, who in 2018 reported that many members were concerned that speed limits were being imposed without good cause in situations where traffic was light.[27] In response, Highways England stated that they had "started a comprehensive review of how variable speed limits are set, including the amount of time they are visible to drivers".[27]

A campaign "Smart Motorways Kill" was set up in 2019 after the death of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu on the M1 northbound near junction 34. They were killed when a heavy goods vehicle collided with their stationary vehicles, after they had pulled over following a minor accident.[28][29] The lane they were in was not closed until after they were killed. The campaign is bringing a judicial review against Highways England to have smart motorways banned and they have also reported H.E to the police for criminal manslaughter. They are also looking at bringing a disability discrimination complaint and class action.

In January 2020, it was announced that a review was planned after freedom of information requests showed that near misses had increased up to 20-fold, and that 38 people had died. The emergency refuge areas (ERA) were placed 500 metres (0.31 mi) apart on the M42 pilot scheme, but can be 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) apart on stretches of the M25.[30][31]

A BBC Panorama aired on 27 January 2020 alleged that smart motorways had caused multiple deaths in the UK, and that the conversion of part of the M25 to "all-lane running" yielded a 2000% increase in hazardous "near misses".

On 28 January 2020 Police Federation of England and Wales chief, reported The Times newspaper, John Apter said he "did not like the term 'smart motorways'" because it infers that they are a good idea. "They’re anything but" and "a recipe for disaster. It’s a death trap. It’s inherently dangerous and putting lives at risk."[32]

In January 2020, all "Smart Motorways" were put under review to address safety concerns and determine an action plan. No new such motorways would open until this review was published. On 12 March 2020, the review and action plan was published. It stated changes to the standards for new smart motorways (ones which had not started construction) such as a reduction from up to 1.5 miles to 1 mile between emergency refuge areas (or other qualifying areas) and stranded vehicle detection radars to be installed as part of the project. Other actions it required to be taken is for all Dynamic Hard Shoulder Motorways to be converted into All-Lane-Running by March 2025, Stranded Vehicle Detection radars to be installed on all Smart Motorways within 36 months & a potential national programme to install more ERAs on current smart motorways.[33]

In 2021, Labour Police and Crime Commissioner from South Yorkshire Alan Billings criticised smart motorways.[34][35] The same year, the government announced the retrofitting of the entire network with radar and improved cameras, and paused the construction of any more smart motorways until this was implemented.[36]

SpecificationsEdit

 
The new emergency area sign being trialled on smart motorways

Early systems used dot matrix signs on gantries to display short text messages, with smaller variable signs above each lane and to the sides of the carriageway. Current smart motorway systems often use the "MS4" sign type[37] which can include pictograms from the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions.

In 2017, Highways England trialled a new type of emergency area on the M3 that would be more visibly obvious to motorists.[38] A new sign accompanied the trial which is similar in design to European emergency area signs. These changes have subsequently been trialled on the M5 and M25 with the signs being authorised by the Department for Transport for further use.[39][40]

Operation and variantsEdit

National Highways (England), the South Wales Trunk Road Agent (there are no motorways in North Wales), DfI Roads (Northern Ireland) and Transport Scotland are responsible for the construction and maintenance of smart motorways in their respective countries.[41]

Controlled motorwayEdit

 
A section of controlled motorway on the M25 in Hertfordshire

Variable speed limits with the hard shoulder operating as it would on a conventional motorway. They have most often been installed where a motorway has previously been widened but with a discontinuous hard shoulder to incorporate existing bridges, therefore using the hard shoulder as a running lane is ruled out. Existing gantries are upgraded to support signals capable of displaying a mandatory speed limit and speed cameras.

LocationsEdit

  •   M6: J10A-J11A[47]
  •   M8: J7-8, J8-10 (Eastbound)
  •   M9: J1-J1A (southbound)[48]
  •   M42: J3-J3A (eastbound), J7-J9[56]
  •   M62: J9-J10 (eastbound)[59] and J28-J29[60]
  •   M73: J1-J2, J2-J2A (Southbound)
  •   M74: J2A-J5
Notes
  1. ^
    1: J4-J5 upgraded from controlled motorway to all-lane running in 2020.
  2. ^
    2: A bus lane is in operation on the southbound hard-shoulder between J1a and J2a and on the approach to the southbound M9. The hard shoulders on the Queensferry Crossing are opened to buses when the Forth Road Bridge is closed.

Dynamic hard shoulder runningEdit

 
M42 with hard shoulder running in the West Midlands. It is shown as closed while the ordinary lanes have a mandatory 40mph speed limit.

Variable speed limits with the hard shoulder selectively opened as a running lane during periods when traffic levels are too high for only three lanes of running traffic. When activated, vehicles can use the hard shoulder as a running lane. All lanes are limited to a maximum of 60 mph, but these can be lowered further.

In October 2019, the chief executive of Highways England told MPs that the company has no plans to introduce the configuration to any further section of motorway, after admitting that motorists found the setup 'too confusing' to use.[61] A study conducted in the previous month found that more than half of motorists surveyed would not drive on a hard shoulder even if it was open.[62]

A stocktake taken in March 2021 confirmed that all DHSR smart motorways will end the use of them by March 2025 by converting all current DHSR to ALR. [63]

LocationsEdit

  •   M62: J26-J28 and J29-J30 (eastbound)[60]

All lane runningEdit

 
A stretch of the M25 in Hertfordshire, where the motorway operates as four-lane running without a hard shoulder between J23-27

Variable speed limits with the hard shoulder removed and converted to a permanent running lane.

LocationsEdit

Notes
  1. ^
    1: Includes upgrade of J4-J5 from controlled motorway to all-lane running.

Through-junction runningEdit

Isolated stretches on a smart motorway where the hard shoulder becomes a permanent running lane through a junction and immediately surrounding the slip roads.

LocationsEdit

Smart motorways by geographic areaEdit

EnglandEdit

Northern IrelandEdit

ScotlandEdit

Under constructionEdit

The following schemes are under construction:

  •   M6: J13-J15 (All lane running, Cost: £232.3-£335.4 million, Estimated completion: September 2021, Length: 16 miles)[83]
  •   M27: J4-J11 (All lane running, Cost: £244 million, Estimated completion: July-September 2021, Length: 14 miles)[87]
  •   M42: J3-J4 (All lane running (including conversion of existing configurations), Cost: £133-£312 million, Estimated completion: 2023/24, Length: 5 miles)[89][44][43][c]

Planned schemesEdit

Withdrawn schemesEdit

The above sections of motorway were included in the first five-year road investment strategy published in December 2014,[44] however they have been removed from the second and current strategy.[98] Sections of the M1 in Leicestershire and Yorkshire are billed to receive undescribed 'capacity improvements' in the third road period beginning in 2025.[98]

The M4 between junctions 24 and 28 near Newport in south Wales had its variable speed limit replaced with a permanent average speed camera-enforced 50mph limit in early 2021. The Welsh Government believed that changing to a fixed limit would better reduce congestion and improve the quality of the air in the town.[99]

Timeline of introductionEdit

1995Edit

  •   M25: J10-J15 (SI 1995/1094, Cost: £13.5 million (equivalent to £27 million in 2020), Length: 14 miles)[100]

2001Edit

2005Edit

2009Edit

2010Edit

2011Edit

  •   M1: J6A-J10 (SI 2011/1015, Cost: £9 million (equivalent to £11 million in 2020), Length: 10 miles)[101]
  •   M1: J25-J28 (SI 2011/909, Cost: £9.5 million (equivalent to £12 million in 2020), Length: 16 miles)[i][102]

2012Edit

  •   M1: J10-J13 (SI 2012/985,[k] Cost: £327 million (equivalent to £395 million in 2020), Length: 15 miles)[64]
  •   M62: J25-J30 (SI 2012/1865,[i] Cost: £136 million (equivalent to £164 million in 2020), Length: 15 miles )[60]

2013Edit

  •   M4: J19-J20 (SI 2013/1123, Cost: £86 million (equivalent to £101 million in 2020), Length: 3 miles)[o][65]
  •   M5: J15-J17 (SI 2013/1123, Cost: £86 million (equivalent to £101 million in 2020), Length: 3 miles)[o][65]

2015Edit

2016Edit

  •   M1: J16-J19 (SI 2016/437, Cost: £65.4 million (equivalent to £73 million in 2020), Length: 14 miles)[105]
  •   M62: J9-J11 (eastbound) (SI 2016/988, Cost: £7 million (equivalent to £8 million in 2020), Length: 3 miles)[59]

2017Edit

2018Edit

2019Edit

2020Edit

  •   M62: J10-J11 (westbound) and J11-J12 (SI 2020/85, Cost: £100-£250m, Length: 9 miles)[78]

2021Edit

FatalitiesEdit

Since the introduction of smart motorways in the United Kingdom, the total fatalities in the UK attributed to them number at least 38.[5]

In September 2018, a woman was killed after her car broke down in an area with no hard shoulder and was hit by another vehicle. Warning signs were not activated until 22 minutes after the breakdown, and the coroner criticised the smart motorway system for not making it clear to drivers that "the onus is on them" to report breakdowns.[112]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ J4-J5 upgraded from controlled motorway to all-lane running in 2020.
  2. ^ Including Toddington services 1 mile to the south.
  3. ^ a b M40/M42 joint scheme.
  4. ^ Planned as part of improvements to junction 18 of the motorway.
  5. ^ Continuous section.
  6. ^ Revoked and replaced by SI 2012/2134.
  7. ^ Amended by SI 2009/1568.
  8. ^ North to south in Belfast.
  9. ^ a b Amended by SI 2013/482.
  10. ^ Revoked and replaced by WSI 2015/1018, itself revoked by WSI 2021/101.
  11. ^ Amended by SI 2013/482 and SI 2016/1033.
  12. ^ Originally a spur of the M9.
  13. ^ Originally junction 1 before the motorway was extended south upon the opening of the Queensferry Crossing.
  14. ^ Amended by SSI 2017/128.
  15. ^ a b M4/M5 joint scheme.
  16. ^ a b M60/M62 joint scheme.
  17. ^ Including Queensferry Crossing.
  18. ^ Amended by SI 2018/1044.

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