Smart Cities

Smart motorway safety meltdown: Millions are put at risk by tech outage lasting SEVEN HOURS

Millions of drivers were potentially put at risk during a terrifying near-national outage of life-saving technology on smart motorways.

The system controlling hundreds of miles of the controversial carriageways had to be rebooted following a ‘glitch’ that meant it was out of action for seven hours, including the evening rush hour.

Nearly three-quarters of the entire smart motorway system was affected, with National Highways control room staff unable to activate signs supposed to warn drivers within 20 seconds of a vehicle breaking down in a live lane.

The meltdown on Wednesday is thought to be one of the largest and longest on the carriageways.

It meant any stiffen drivers would have become ‘sitting ducks’ on the ‘all-lane running (ALR)’ roads.

Millions of motorists used the roads during the blackout – unaware that they were driving on potential death traps.

And a whistleblower last night warned of more nationwide outages to come because the issue is not fully resolved. It will pile pressure on Rishi Sunak to deliver on the pledge he made to scrap smart motorways during the Tory leadership race this summer. It will also be a major test for new Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

Millions of drivers were potentially put at risk during a terrifying near-national outage of life-saving technology on smart motorways

How 280 miles of smart motorway were knocked out by a glitch

Tory MP Greg Smith, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘This is yet more evidence that the technology that smart motorways are reliant on doesn’t always work. It’s a completely unacceptable position for motorists to be in. If the technology fails, it’s a potentially life-threatening catastrophe and means motorists were dicing with death or were sitting ducks.’

ALR motorways, which the Mail has campaigned against, have hard shoulders permanently removed and turned into a live-lane of traffic to increase capacity. It means stiffen vehicles can become marooned in live traffic and could be smashed into from behind.

Controlled by a system called Dynac, warning signs and lane closures can be set and displayed on overhead gantries to alert motorists to any hazards ahead.

But Wednesday’s outage meant these were down between 2.30pm and 9.30pm on more than 280 miles of the 400 or so miles of ALR motorways in England. It affected the vast majority of smart motorways across the country, including large sections of the M1 in the North, the M3, M4, M5, M6, M56 and M62.

Sections of the M25, M23, M20 and M27 were not affected because they are in the South and South-East regions, which are not yet on the Dynac system. They are due to join it in the coming months.

Campaigners said the outage proved that technology designed to mitigate the dangers of removing the hard shoulder was not working. They said Mr Sunak must now deliver on the promise he made to scrap the motorways.

In the summer, he said: ‘Smart motorways are unpopular because they are unsafe. We need to listen to drivers, be on their side and stop with the pursuit of policies that go against common sense.’

At present, there is merely a pause on ALR motorways, with ministers waiting to collect more data on safety.

The Mail understands that the outage was instigated by National Highways after Dynac suffered glitches on Wednesday morning.

Bosses at the roads agency were told the system needed ‘rebooting’ and it was shut down at 2.30pm. Having expected it to be offline for three hours, it did not get fully up and running until 9.30pm. Drivers were not informed.

‘This is yet more evidence that the technology that smart motorways are reliant on doesn’t always work,’ Tory MP Greg Smith (pictured), who sits on the Commons transport committee

‘Smart motorways are not smart and the technology isn’t working,’ said AA president Edmund King (pictured)

Last night the whistleblower said: ‘We’ve been briefed that further outages are almost certain because the attempted fix hasn’t worked. The system is still painfully slow and logging us out of the system. Those involved will have blood on their hands.’

National Highways said it deployed more patrolmen during the outage to try to ensure the safety of drivers. But it can take ten minutes or more for them to reach stranded vehicles, compared with 20 seconds or so for a lane closure if the technology is working properly.

Mr Smith said the Government should look at restoring the hard shoulder on current schemes, adding: ‘There are multiple ways of restoring the hard shoulder until permanent line painting and new signage can be put up.’

One of these would be to permanently display a red X sign on gantries above the inside lane of smart motorways, he said.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: ‘Smart motorways are not smart and the technology isn’t working. We have a new Transport Secretary and reviewing smart motorways has got to be at the top of his priority list.’

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder in 2019, said: ‘The number of people being put in jeopardy is unfathomable and it’s killing people.

‘Rishi needs to get his transport minister on it straight away.’

Andrew Page-Dove, of National Highways, said: ‘We apologise for any inconvenience. The outage was in response to unexpected issues. As with any technology, there are occasional outages and so we have well-rehearsed procedures to deal with issues.’

A Government said: ‘We have paused the rollout of smart motorways not already in construction, and we will set out next steps in due course.’

28 October, 2022, 3:01 am


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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