Panorama: Faulty smart motorway tech 'means Russian roulette'

22/04/2024
Chris Ames

Technology on smart motorways lost power nearly 400 times over 20 months, according to the BBC.

Panorama reported that, according to data obtained under freedom of information laws, there were 397 incidents between June 2022 and February 2024 when smart motorways lost power.

  • For five days in July 2023 there were no signs, signals, camera or radar at Junction 18 on the M6
  • In September 2023, there were no signs, signals or CCTV for five days at Junction 22 of the M62
  • In December 2023, there were no signs, signals, sensors or CCTV for three and a half days at Junction 6 on the M5

The programme said the worst problems were in the six months leading up to February 2024, with 174 power outages.

AA president Edmund King told the programme that the outages are particularly dangerous where there is no hard shoulder.

He said: ‘If you haven't got that technology, it's not even a basic motorway because you haven't got the hard shoulder. It means that you're playing Russian roulette with people's lives.’

Panorama also reported that in 2022 there were 2,331 faults on stopped vehicle detection radar systems, for an average of more than five days.

A National Highways traffic officer who works on smart motorways told the programme that he no longer trusts the radar because he has seen it fail too often.

He said: ‘Sometimes it's faulty, sometimes they're repairing something and they'll turn it off. I don't always know it's off.’

National Highways told Panorama that there are well-rehearsed contingency plans to deal with power outages, adding that reinstating the hard shoulder would increase congestion.

Smart motorways include three types of motorways that use technology to smooth out traffic flows and detect incidents, including all lane running schemes where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed.

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