Recent reductions to the spacing between emergency areas on smart motorway projects do not go far enough, the Commons transport select committee has said.
The committee has been calling on Highways England to reduce the spacing between emergency refuge areas following its inquiry into the all lane running design in 2016. The All lane running report argued that the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane is a radical change to the nature of motorways and creates a real challenge for motorists.
Following a review by Highways England of the inquiry’s findings, its chief executive Jim O’Sullivan wrote to the committee last week saying the spacing was being reduced from 2.4km to 1.6km for all future projects. But committee chair Lilian Greenwood said the reduction falls “far short” of its recommendations.
“One area of particular concern is the size and spacing of emergency refuge areas,” she said. “While we welcome the news that Highways England is undertaking a targeted programme to install additional emergency areas in locations with the highest levels of potential live lane stops, it doesn’t go far enough.”
Highways England chief highway engineer Mike Wilson said that smart motorways are good for drivers. He said that they added extra lanes, improving journeys while maintaining safety standards.
“A three year study on the M25 has shown that smart motorways are as safe as other motorways,” said Wilson. “We recognise that as well as being safe, drivers want to feel safe and we are making some changes to the design including making emergency areas more visible; introducing systems that detect stationary vehicles; and raising awareness of the need to comply with lane closures.
“For future schemes we will be reducing the maximum space between emergency areas from the maximum of 2.4km to 1.6km, where practical.
“All of this is being done to help road users feel more safe.”
Greenwood’s comments rabout spacing between emergency areas were published yesterday in a response to a survey by motorists’ lobby group the AA, which received 20,000 responses. It said that the general public remains unconvinced about the benefits of all lane running.
In December last year, the survey found more than a fifth of drivers felt all lane running motorways (smart motorways) were dangerous compared to other roads.