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M3 and M27: Safety

Question for Department for Transport

UIN 45411, tabled on 11 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps he is taking to ensure road users are informed of how safely to act in the event of a breakdown on smart motorways on (a) the M27 between J4 and J11 and (b) part of the M3 between J9 and J14 prior to their opening.

Answered on

19 May 2020

Highways England runs regular national public information campaigns to help improve driver confidence and safety when using the Strategic Road Network (SRN). Detailed advice about safe driving on England’s motorways and major A-roads is available on its website

Since 2016, Highways England has run eight national smart motorways public awareness campaigns. Last Summer and again in February this year, it ran national public awareness campaigns on how to drive safely on its motorways, including messaging on what to do in a breakdown and smart motorway features, including Red X and variable speed limits. Highways England will continue to deliver national public awareness campaigns, with the next one planned for later this year on what to do in the event of a breakdown.

More widely, my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State commissioned a review into smart motorway safety which reported earlier this year, with 18 measures to raise the bar on smart motorway safety, notwithstanding that the evidence shows that in most ways, smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones. These measures included committing to an additional £5million on national targeted communications campaigns to further increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways, how they work and how to use them confidently.

Highways England is delivering a number of communications activities for the M27 Junction 4 to 11 Smart Motorway Scheme ahead of opening to help customers understand how to safely use a smart motorway. These include local exhibition events at community centres along the length of the scheme, information points at shopping centres, and the creation of scheme specific newsletters as well as information leaflets. Local authorities and other key stakeholders are also encouraged to share information using their own communication channels. Highways England expects to follow a similar communication strategy for the M3 scheme.

The M27 Junction 4 to 11 Smart Motorway Scheme will utilise variable mandatory speed limits (VMSL) which are set automatically in response to the level of congestion or traffic queues. Sensors detect the speed and volume of traffic, and this is used to calculate the optimum speed to keep vehicles moving smoothly, reducing the level of stop-start traffic and congestion.

The M3 Junctions 9 to 14 Smart Motorway Scheme is also planned to operate with VMSLs following a consultation, in which there was no opposition to the specifics of implementing VMSL.