Smart Motorways: Highways England told to beef up the communication effort

Smart Motorway

Transport Focus, the road and rail user watchdog, has said Highways England must do more to inform motorists how Smart Motorways work. The results of the latest Transport Focus survey shows drivers are not unduly concerned about the safety of motorways employing all-lane-running (ALR), but they are unsure of what to do when they break-down in the absence of a hard shoulder.

Transport Focus has called on Highways England to do more to help drivers understand what smart motorways are designed to achieve and how their various features work; to reassure road users that motorways with no hard shoulder are safe; and to roll out the orange surface and new signage to emergency refuge areas as quickly as possible.

The HE is currently piloting an overall initiative to increase awareness of emergency refuge areas and their proper use, including painting the road surfaces within ERAs orange to make them more obvious. It's also working on ways of informing drivers of the need to observe and follow Red X signs when these are dispalyed on variable message signs to temporarily close lanes. Last year the Transport Select Committee conclude that it remains unconvinced of the safety of Smart Motorways using ALR due to concerns over the refuge areas and Red X compliance. Government's response included a commitment to increase communication efforts, but Transport Focus says there is still more to do.

'Road users tend to trust that ‘the authorities’ would not allow motorways without a hard shoulder if it was unsafe. Highways England must remain vigilant that their trust is not misplaced,' Transport Focus said.

Highways England chief engineer, Mike Wilson, said: “Smart motorways are central to the modernisation of England’s motorways. They provide additional capacity by making the hard shoulder available as a traffic lane, provide emergency areas for drivers to stop and use variable speed limits to smooth traffic. Our evidence shows that they are as safe as other motorways, some of the safest roads in the world.

“We recognise motorists need to be confident using smart motorways, and are already making improvements such as improving signs and painting emergency areas bright orange. We also have an ongoing campaign aimed at improving understanding and making it clearer where drivers can stop in an emergency.

"We welcome Transport Focus views and will combine them with our own insight to continue to raise awareness and build confidence among drivers.”