Currently reading: MPs: Smart motorway roll-out should be paused
Transport Committee report calls on government to halt introduction of further all-lane-running motorways until more safety data is available
James Attwood, digital editor
News
2 mins read
2 November 2021

The roll-out of smart motorways should be ‘paused’ immediately because there is insufficient data on their safety, according to MPs.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has made the recommendation in a new report on the use of all-lane-running (ALR) motorways – in which the hard shoulder is permanently used as an extra lane – that raises further questions about their safety.

While the committee noted that the government has made a number of safety improvements to smart motorways, the report said the decision taken in March 2020 to make all new smart motorways ALR roads was “premature”. 

It has called on the Department for Transport and National Highways to pause the roll-out of further ALR motorways until five years of safety and economic data is available for the remaining 112 miles of such roads introduced before 2020.

The committee wants a full health and safety assessment of the ALR motorways, and for all existing ALR motorways to be retrofitted with refuge areas a maximum of one mile apart - decreasing to 0.75 miles where possible.

The MPs also want the Office of Road and Rail to independently evaluate the effectiveness of stopped vehicle technology, and for the addition of the ‘emergency corridor manoeuvre’ to be added to the Highway Code for traffic on congested roads.

Dynamic hard shoulder motorways “apparently confuse drivers”, adds the report, because the hard shoulder is opened at unpredictable times to combat traffic. Instead, it says a more consistent approach, with the road open at set times, could clarify the situation for drivers while not completely removing the hard shoulder.

The report also notes that controlled motorways - which retain a hard shoulder but use technology to regulate traffic speed – have the lowest casualty rate of all motorway types in the UK.

The House of Commons Transport Committee is comprised of 11 MPs, and is chaired by Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle.

AA president Edmund King described the report as “pragmatic”, and noted it “reflects many of the actions we had been calling for”. He added: “We hope that the government will respond quickly to these recommendations so that action can be taken to improve the safety of smart motorways and the public’s perception of these roads.”

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Andrew1 2 November 2021
It can't be paused. The £350m/week Brexit dividends must go to NHS, as promised. Therefore, we have no money left for enlarging motorways. My must put drivers in danger. Yes, I know we pay billions to foreign companies to keep our voters employed, but that's also Brexit windfall.
gavsmit 2 November 2021

I wonder how many people have been killed or seriously injured since the first time it was officially recognised how dangerous and stupid 'smart' motorways are?

As work persists on our local motorway, it continues to annoy everyone with loud through the night works going on, then traffic chaos at the weekends when it is shut for more work.

Someone is either making a lot of money, or will lose a lot of money in fines written into a terrible contract with the contractors, to see these abomonations through to completion - which is far more important than people's lives. 

gareth9702 2 November 2021
Some good sense from the MPs. The flow advantages from the consistency of reduced speed can be believed because of the non-linearities of traffic dynamics. Other than that all the other aspects of smart motorways are second-best solutions to the problem of over-capacity.
Sulphur Man 2 November 2021

@gareth9702

Well put. Regulating traffic speed can help with congestion management. Smart motorways are a lesson in not to tinker at the edges of the main problem - too many car journeys. 

Torque Stear 2 November 2021
gareth9702 wrote:

Some good sense from the MPs. The flow advantages from the consistency of reduced speed can be believed because of the non-linearities of traffic dynamics. Other than that all the other aspects of smart motorways are second-best solutions to the problem of over-capacity.

By good sense do you mean panders to my pre-existing beliefs, this appears to be what MPs have done. 

Highways England's own report showed that ALR smart motorways were on average safer than a non smart motorway in terms of casualties per km of driving. The Office of Rail and Road reviewed the evidence and supported the conclusions but did make the case that more running data is needed but that it would be unlikely to alter the conclusions.

The data did indicate that accidents between stationary and moving vehicles were more likely on Smart Motorways however there are technological fixes to that which will further increase the safety benefit compared to conventional motorways.

The idea that due to incomplete data we should stop rolling out smart motorways until we have "better data" is a terrible one which again panders to a cognative bias (status quo bias).

If we don't proceed with more smart motorways we leave more people on non smart motorways which are more dangerous, cause more congestion which increases traffic accidents and force more traffic on to more dangerous A-roads which will also be more congested.

On the ballance of probabilities we should continue to roll out smart motorways. Which is what the professionals with engineering and maths degrees suggest as opposed to the lawyers and classics degree holders in the house of parliament want.

New road construction is politically impossible at the moment, the arguments I would make for it are that all new cars will be electric before any road building program is complete and that the UK has a low density of major roads compare to nations in europe. I'd also add that the Dutch drive as much as we do and one of their strategies for getting cycling to work is by building new roads to route cars away from where people are cycling.