The government announced that their policy on smart motorways would change, in the wake of many accidents as drivers collide with broken down vehicles, on what used to be known as the hard shoulder.
Grant Shapps the Transport Minister told the media in March the reforms to the previous smart motorway roll-out would include;
- abolishing “dynamic hard shoulder” smart motorways, where the hard shoulder is opened up for flowing traffic during busy periods after concerns they confuse drivers
- Highways England to install “stopped vehicle detection” technology within the next 36 months, so vehicles can be detected and lanes closed more quickly;
- reducing the distance between areas to stop in an emergency;
- an aim to reduce the attendance time of Highways England traffic patrols from an average 17 minutes to 10 minutes;
- making emergency areas more visible;
- spending £5m on increasing drivers’ awareness and understanding of smart motorways;
- updating the Highway Code to provide more guidance.
Neena Sharma, a partner at the law firm Keoghs, represented a man through a difficult police investigation after his grandson was killed in an accident on a smart motorway. The man’s car was stationary on the hard shoulder of the M6 motorway which had been turned into an active lane by Highways England earlier in the day. The boy was killed instantly after a lorry driver collided with the car. His cousin, who was also a passenger in the vehicle, sustained severe physical and psychological injuries. The man, who suffered a serious head injury, was charged with causing death by dangerous driving and the lorry driver with causing death by careless driving.
The Coroner highlighted that Highways England had “no system of automatic alert” to spot a lone vehicle. Instead, they often have to rely on calls from the police or public to alert them that a stranded motorist is in peril and the lane needs to be closed to traffic. Highways England have promise to rectify this by introducing a new radar technology that can automatically detect stopped vehicles will be rolled out within three years. Additionally, the government said there would be a big increase in digital cameras on smart motorways to identify drivers who flout rules and motorists can be hit with £100 fines and three penalty points.
Commenting on the case, Neena Sharma, Partner at Keoghs, said: “Tragic case have drawn attention to the significant risks faced by drivers whilst using smart motorways particularly those with a dynamic hard shoulder in which the hard shoulder is opened up to traffic during busy times and those with all lane running which have no hard shoulder at all.
“The measures announced by the transport secretary are a victory for common sense and safety. Tragically people have lost their lives, and in some cases coroners have indicated this could have been avoided.”