Drivers who break down on some smart motorway stretches are not being reached by traffic officers within a target response time, a regulator has warned.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said National Highways missed its goal of attending to vehicles stopped in live lanes on motorways without a hard shoulder within an average of 10 minutes every month from July 2021 to May 2022.
This is for smart motorways with emergency areas more than one mile apart.
The average response time fell from around 12-and-a-half minutes to 10-and-a-half minutes over the period.
There have been long-standing fears about the safety of smart motorways following fatal incidents where vehicles stopped in live lanes were hit from behind.
An RAC poll of 2,652 UK drivers suggested that 62% believe hard shoulders should be reintroduced across the motorway network.
National Highways, the Government-owned company responsible for England’s motorways and major A roads, set the 10-minute target in March 2021 to be reached four months later.
It told the ORR that the two most significant risks to meeting the target are delays in the delivery and fitting out of new traffic officer vehicles due to supply chain issues, and Operation Brock on the M20 in Kent.
In its annual assessment of National Highways, the ORR also called on the organisation to provide better evidence of how it is considering the long-term needs of its infrastructure, and a “robust plan” for meeting 2025 biodiversity targets.
The ORR concluded that National Highways delivered its enhancement commitments in the year to the end of March, but there is more to do to maximise the full benefits of investment.
ORR director of planning and performance Feras Alshaker said: “While the company continues to work towards delivering its safety targets, we’ve had some concerns over the company’s ability to achieve its target of a 10-minute response for traffic officers on certain sections of smart motorways.
“It must continue to focus on reducing its response times on these sections of motorway.”
National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: “As the report rightly points out, we have made good progress on the majority of our main priorities over the last 12 months.
“This includes further improving the safety of our network, reducing our carbon footprint, providing fast and reliable journeys and delivering on the Government’s hugely ambitious second Road Investment Strategy.
“As an ambitious organisation that is striving to develop at pace, we know that we must continuously improve our systems and processes to ensure that we can deliver.
“This is why, over the next 12 months, we will continue to work closely with ORR to build on the strong performance of recent years while providing the additional reassurance it needs in relation to the small number of issues raised in today’s report.”