Smart motorways’ safety technology will not work for another five months, National Highways admits

Stopped Vehicle Detection sensors should detect 80 per cent of stopped vehicles - Andrew Matthews/PA
Stopped Vehicle Detection sensors should detect 80 per cent of stopped vehicles - Andrew Matthews/PA

Smart motorways’ safety technology will not work properly for another five months, the chief executive of National Highways has admitted.

A watchdog report last year found radar systems meant to detect stranded cars on smart motorways were missing up to 40 per cent of stopped vehicles and “falling short” of minimum targets.

The quango’s minimum requirements for Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) is that it detects 80 per cent of stopped vehicles and sends a maximum 15 per cent of false alarms.

But alerts that should happen within 20 seconds took more than a minute in one region, and that more than four in five alerts were false alarms in another, according to The Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Questioned about the findings by MPs on Wednesday, Nick Harris said the Government-owned company is aiming to meet minimum performance requirements for a radar system used to detect stranded cars by July.

“Many of the schemes are not meeting the very challenging performance specifications we set,” he said.

Speaking to the Transport Select Committee, he added: “It is working and it is adding significantly to the tools that we have available to further improve road safety.

“I have a very, very closely-managed programme going on at the moment to ensure that the systems that we’ve already implemented - and we’re ongoing with commissioning new ones - will achieve the performance specification later this year.

“I think we’ve set July as the target for that.

“But this is the largest implementation of this technology in the world.

“We’re the first to be doing this. It’s an important addition to road safety and we’re very committed to getting it to that standard, but it is adding significantly to road safety at the moment.”

Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, who sits on the committee, told the Telegraph: “Every minute the technology isn’t working, up to scratch or reliable is time lives are being put at risk.

“It is unacceptable and smart motorways need to be turned off and run as normal motorways until the technology is categorically proven to work.”

SVD is a type of radar system that flanks controversial all-lane running motorways where the hard shoulder has been converted to a live lane.

Broken down vehicles are left marooned in high-speed traffic until control room staff find the incident on camera, set lane closures and dispatch traffic officers to the scene.

SVD should alert control operators to stationary vehicles within 20 seconds. National Highways staff members can then check CCTV cameras and confirm the situation before setting the appropriate signs and signals.

The ORR report found the technology fell behind targets in each of the firm’s five regions.

Mr Harris said at the time: “Our roads are among the safest in the world but every road death is a tragedy and we know there’s more we can do to further improve safety.”