Government set to urgently review smart motorways as safety concerns rise

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced that the Department for Transport (DfT) will launch an urgent review into smart motorways.

Shapps also said that any future decisions about the schemes will be made by the DfT.

Speaking in the House of Commons during transport questions, Mr Shapps said that he had watched the chief executive Jim O’Sullivan give evidence to the Transport Select Committee the day before.

Mr Shapps said that following on from that, he had now “asked his department to carry out, at pace, an evidence stock take to gather the facts quickly to make recommendations.”

“I will ensure that it is the department that is making decisions on this because I think some of the statistics on this have been difficult to understand.

“Understanding whether they are less safe, the same or safer – it turns out not to be as straightforward as members might imagine – I want all of those facts and recommendations that can be put into place to ensure that all of our motorways are as safe as they possibly can be.”

The review will be completed in a matter of weeks.

The RAC Foundation, a transport policy and research organisation, welcomed the review, but remained cautious at relying on mainly data led measures.

Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said: “Highways England says it is ‘data led’ but despite its reassurances that the numbers point to smart motorways being safe that message has failed to reassure many drivers. This review is therefore timely, but whatever the conclusion the big challenge will be in successfully reporting those conclusions to sceptical road users.”

According to Highways England post implementation reviews of all lane running schemes – one of a number of smart motorway concepts – show that they are as safe or safer than conventional motorways. However, there has been growing public concern about the spacing of emergency refuges (which can be anything between 600 metres and 1.5 miles apart) and the lack of stopped vehicle detection systems which are only present on 18% of smart motorway stretches.

Addressing the Transport Select Committee yesterday Mr O’Sullivan said that there would be no more stretches of smart motorways that have dynamic hard shoulder – where the hard shoulder is sometimes used as a live lane when traffic volume is high – because they “can be too complicated to use”.

Image credit: Pixabay

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