Keoghs Insight

Author

Craig Withington

Smart(ish) Motorways: Where do we go from here?

Blogs11/11/2021

The increasingly acrimonious debate on the safety of smart motorways continues apace.

The latest report from the Commons Transport Select Committee into Smart Motorways was published on 2 November[1]. They have recommended that further rollout should be paused for five years:

“The Government’s decision in March 2020 that all new smart motorways will be all-lane running motorways was premature. The Government and National Highways should therefore pause the rollout of all-lane running motorways to collect more data, to upgrade and then evaluate the safety of existing all-lane running schemes and to consider alternative options for enhancing capacity on the Strategic Road Network. The Government and National Highways should pause the rollout of new all-lane running schemes until five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020 and the implementation of the safety improvements in the Government’s action plan has been independently evaluated.”

So no ringing endorsement here.

They have called on the Department for Transport and National Highways to:

  • Retrofit emergency refuge areas to existing all-lane running Smart Motorways to make them a maximum of one mile apart, decreasing to every 0.75 miles where physically possible;
  • Insert the emergency corridor manoeuvre into the Highway Code to help emergency services and traffic patrol officers to access incidents when traffic is congested;
  • Commission the Office for Rail and Road to conduct an independent evaluation of the effectiveness and operation of stopped vehicle technology; and,
  • Beginning in September 2022, task the Office of Rail and Road with evaluating the Department’s progress, particularly the incidences and response times for live lane breakdowns and educating drivers on the correct action to take.

Motoring organisations have broadly welcomed the recommendations.

Edmund King, AA president, said:

“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.”

Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said:

“We know smart motorways in their current form, coupled with inadequate safety systems, are not fit for purpose and are putting lives at risk. Reinstating the hard shoulder while full investigations are carried out need not be costly … the government must finally listen.”

Campaigners have been less effusive in their praise. They argue that any delay could lead to more deaths. Some are demanding the programme be abandoned and hard shoulders be re-instated where they have been removed.

Around 300 additional miles of smart motorways are currently planned for 2025, almost doubling the 375 miles currently in operation. The Government is under no obligation to follow the Committee’s recommendations.

All the evidence is that the Government is committed to the continued rollout of smart motorways. It is not anticipated that they will abandon the programme.

We wait with interest to see what the Government’s response will be to the Committee’s report. A DfT spokesperson said: “We’re pleased that the committee recognises that reinstating the hard shoulder on all all-lane running motorways could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury and that we’re right to focus on upgrading their safety, as the secretary of state committed to doing when he became transport secretary.”

What we can be sure of is the debate is likely to be heated and long running with the glare of the media spotlight well and truly focussed on the issue. 

For more informtation, please contact Craig Withington, Solicitor. 

[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5802/cmselect/cmtrans/26/summary.html