Currently reading: Transport secretary: smart motorways are "anything but"
Grant Shapps highlights flaws in roll-out of all-lane-running motorways but rules out their removal
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3 mins read
4 February 2021

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has publicly admitted to flaws in the roll-out of 'smart motorways' in the UK, outlining a number of planned measures to improve the safety and reputation of such roads. 

Speaking yesterday (3 February) to the Commons Transport Select Committee, Shapps suggested that the use of 'smart' to describe all-lane-running motorways is a "misnomer" and that "mistakes were made" in their introduction. 

His comments follow the recent ruling of Sheffield coroner David Urpeth which found the deaths of two men in a 2019 crash could have been prevented if there had been a hard shoulder on the stretch of smart motorway on which it occurred. 

Among the failures identified by Shapps are a shortage of emergency lay-bys and inadequate technology for the detection of broken-down vehicles in live lanes. 

Shapps "wouldn't have gone about it like this", had he overseen the early stages of the smart motorway roll-out, and vowed to usher in safety-improving measures, including additional refuge areas, penalties for ignoring lane closure warnings and radar technology that can detect a broken-down vehicle in as little as 20sec. 

Improved breakdown detection technology was previously set to be installed on several stretches of smart motorway by 2025, but that deadline was brought forward to March 2023 last year. Now, Shapps said he will bring that deadline forward again, with all smart motorways receiving the technology in 2022. 

Shapps highlighted the 1.5-mile gap between lay-bys as a particular safety risk of the scheme, telling the committee: "I don’t approve of the fact that the emergency areas were being spaced way too far apart. I’ve inherited all that. I’ve said they have to be ideally three-quarters of a mile [and] no more than a mile.

“Why these things were ever called smart motorways when they seemed to be anything but. I think was a misnomer.”

To reverse the scheme completely would mean acquiring the equivalent of "700 Wembley stadium-sized football pitches" in land, the destruction of "acres" of green-belt land and the compulsory purchase of homes, Shapps said, adding: "I don't see that there's a route through to simply undo it. We've got to make what's there safe".

Shapps argued that, despite the safety concerns, smart motorways have a lower death rate than conventional roads and that to phase them out would be "going against the evidence". 

Shapps also suggested that Urpeth had not been made aware of a 2019 review into the safety of smart motorways, which resulted in several new safety measures being introduced as part of a so-called 'stocktake' last year.

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The results of a recent YouGov poll found 57% of respondents opposed the use of all-lane-running motorways, with 64% deeming such roads "less safe" than conventional motorways. Highways England told Autocar: “Overall, the risks for road users are less compared to conventional motorways and the stocktake report indicates that smart motorways have reduced the casualty rate by 18%. 

"Drivers need to be aware that on average one in 12 motorway fatalities happen on the hard shoulder."

The transport secretary will update MPs later this month on the progress made since the changes were implemented in 2020.

READ MORE

YouGov poll finds most Brits oppose smart motorways​

Smart motorways review brings 18 measures to boost safety​

Nine more smart motorways get go-ahead despite safety concerns​

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gavsmit 4 February 2021

Is anyone going to be criminally prosecuted for these? Most people said how dangerous and stupid these were but they carried on building them anyway. Putting priority on speed / lane closure cameras (that act in a suspicious non-safety but revenue driven way) just spells out corruption to me, i.e. politicians taking back-handers from companies awarded 'shart' motorway contracts from this criminal idea.

mrking 4 February 2021

I recently got flashed for speeding on a smart motorway and had to attend a course. It was basically a 4 hour propoganda session on why smart motorways are super brilliant. Of the 40 or so people there with me, maybe 3 or 4 thought they were a good idea at the start and possibly about 4 or 5 at the end. As others have said, it's basically a way of getting more cars down the road without spending what it costs to add a lane. Maybe the mistake is trying to con us that they are safer than having a hard shoulder.

Peter Cavellini 4 February 2021

 I think if I ever go anywhere, I'll use the A' roads, maybe slower, but I'll enjoy my journey more, there are so many bad drivers out there, doing stupid things, or losing the temper, that your stress levels are constantly high which isn't healthy in any sense, and service areas are a rip off, Toilet facilities are often deplorable, your more likely to catch something, no, in a way I'll be glad to stop driving in a while.

scotty5 4 February 2021
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 I think if I ever go anywhere, I'll use the A' roads,

'Smart' motorways were always going to be dangerous, it's only a news story to the accountants, who at the end of the day, had more clout over their introduction than anyone with common sense. But even allowing for 'smart' motorways, if Peter thinks A roads are going to be any safer...  Jeez.

Peter Cavellini 4 February 2021
scotty5 wrote:

Peter Cavellini wrote:

 I think if I ever go anywhere, I'll use the A' roads,

'Smart' motorways were always going to be dangerous, it's only a news story to the accountants, who at the end of the day, had more clout over their introduction than anyone with common sense. But even allowing for 'smart' motorways, if Peter thinks A roads are going to be any safer...  Jeez.

I traveled up n down into England for over thirty years and used mainly the A' roads , never had a bit of bother, maybe I've been lucky?