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Target time for reaching drivers stranded on smart motorways met 14 months late

A target response time for reaching drivers stranded on smart motorways has been met more than a year later than originally planned (Steve Parsons/PA)
A target response time for reaching drivers stranded on smart motorways has been met more than a year later than originally planned (Steve Parsons/PA)

A target response time for reaching drivers stranded on smart motorways has been met more than a year later than originally planned.

National Highways figures seen by the PA news agency show it took traffic officers an average of nine minutes and 49 seconds to attend to stopped vehicles on smart motorways without a hard shoulder in September.

The Government-owned company responsible for motorways and major A roads in England initially committed to reducing its average response time from 17 minutes in 2020 to 10 minutes by July 2021.

The M3 smart motorway
Smart motorways make up around 10% of England’s motorway network (Steve Parsons/PA)

After failing to accomplish the goal by that deadline, in May it pledged to hit the target by the end of September.

The response time relates to stretches of all lane running (ALR) smart motorways where emergency areas are more than a mile apart.

National Highways said it is reaching stranded drivers more quickly after buying extra patrol vehicles and recruiting additional traffic officers.

It has also introduced satellite “outstations” and “park-up points” around the busiest smart motorway sections to make it easier for traffic officers to react to incidents.

National Highways executive director of operations Duncan Smith said: “We have made considerable progress cutting the average time it takes us to attend incidents on all lane running motorways, where emergency areas are more than a mile apart.

“In September, the national average attendance time was nine minutes and 49 seconds, greatly reduced from the original 17 minutes in 2020.

“We will continue to work hard to keep average attendance times to 10 minutes on these sections.”

Three other smart motorway safety improvements were also implemented by the end of September.

Stopped vehicle detection technology was retrofitted to all smart motorways without a hard shoulder.

Installation of additional signs showing the distance to the next emergency stopping area was completed, and all enforcement cameras were upgraded to enable detection of closed lane violations.

Around 10% of the motorway network is made up of smart motorways.

They involve various methods to manage the flow of traffic, such as converting the hard shoulder into a live running lane.

These ALR smart motorways boost capacity at a lower cost than widening roads.

But there have been long-standing fears about their safety following fatal incidents in which vehicles stopped in live lanes were hit from behind.

National Highways has insisted they are safer than conventional motorways.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Breaking down on a motorway can be a traumatic experience; however, if it happens in a live lane it can be truly terrifying.

“While much progress has been made on hitting other targets originally outlined following the Government’s evidence stocktake and average wait times are now down, it’s vital drivers are protected as quickly as possible.

“For anyone stranded in a live lane even a few minutes with fast-moving traffic going past must seem like a very long time.”