A coroner has questioned the safety of ‘smart’ motorways during the inquest of an 8-year-old boy who died after a lorry hit a stationary car he was in.
West Midlands coroner Emma Brown said she wanted information from Highways England on how they can improve detecting cars that have stopped on ‘smart’ motorways, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
She expressed concerns about the 'risk to life from the loss of the hard shoulder' as well as the lack of technology that detects when vehicles have come to a stop on ‘smart’ motorways.
of motorists believe 'smart' motorways are unsafe, so use them like normal motorways - KwikFit
The concerns were raised during an inquest into the death of Leicester schoolboy Dev Naran who died on a hard shoulder in May 2018.
He was killed instantly when his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris was struck by a lorry travelling at 56mph on the M6 near Birmingham.
The boy's parents, Meera and Dilesh, want a review on ‘smart’ motorway safety, telling the Sunday Telegraph:
Why have people not been taught about these smart motorways?
An executive from Highways England told the inquest that it currently relies on calls from members of the public, police or an employee watching live CCTV to be made aware of vehicles that have come to a standstill on a ‘smart’ motorway.
They are currently testing a radar system that should detect stationary vehicles.
What is a ‘smart’ motorway?
‘Smart motorways’ were introduced by Highways England with the aim of reducing congestion. So far, over 200 miles of motorways across England have been converted into ‘smart motorways.’
When a motorway is converted, the hard shoulder can be used as a normal-running lane, either during busier periods or permanently.
But motoring groups have warned they create a safety risk as vehicles that break down suddenly could be hit from behind.
Currently, drivers who break down or crash only have access to ‘emergency refuge areas,’ which only appear every 1.5 miles. If cars were to stop in traffic on ‘smart’ motorways, then red X’s should appear on gantries overhead, warning others to vacate the lane.
But there are concerns as to how well these rules are being followed:
warning letters issued to drivers who've ignored red X signs since start of 2017 - Highways England
of drivers have admitted to breaking the rules of the road by disregarding the red X - RAC
of motorists admitted to disregarding the red X "on purpose" - RAC
There are 3 types of 'smart' motorway:
Controlled motorway - This type of motorway has variable speed limits. Vehicles can only use the hard shoulder in an emergency, such as a breakdown.
Hard shoulder running - On this type of motorway vehicles are allowed to use the hard shoulder at peak times to ease congestion.
All lanes running - On these stretches motorists can use the hard shoulder as a normal lane, all the time. They have Emergency Refuge Areas every 1.5 miles.
With the three different types of 'smart' motorway in operation, the system has proved confusing for some drivers.
A recent survey by KwikFit found that motorists could be driving dangerously because of a lack of awareness of the rules.
of drivers wrongly believe a blank sign means the hard-shoulder is open to traffic - KwikFit
The survey found that 45% of motorists incorrectly believed that 'flashing amber lights with an arrow' means a lane is open.
In fact, it is used to indicate that there is a hazard ahead and they need to move across to the next lane.
Highways England said research shows smart motorways lead to fewer collisions while also reducing congestion:
First and foremost our deepest sympathies are with the family of Dev Naran and those affected by this tragic incident.
Highways England say they are awaiting the coroner's report which has not yet been published.