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Published On: October 31, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

Safety concerns and smart motorways

Smart motorways account for around 400 miles of roads in England.  Some involve the use of variable speed limits to control traffic flow.  Others, known as dynamic smart motorways, involve the use of hard shoulders of which there are two types; the first where the hard shoulder is open to traffic when it is busy and the second where the hard shoulder is open all the time (known as All Lane Running). Dynamic smart motorways were created to “increase the capacity of the road without the expense and hassle of widening the road, by either temporarily or permanently opening the hard shoulder to traffic.”

Following several deaths pressure has been building on Highways England to axe its smart motorways programme. The roads operator is facing corporate manslaughter charges after two motorists died on the M1, and the government has now ordered a review into how smart motorways operate.

In September Highways England released a statement to the media in relation to recent commentary about the safety performance of smart motorways.  Chief Highway Engineer Mike Wilson said:

“Motorways in this country are among the very safest roads in the world. Highways England would never carry out a major improvement scheme without being confident that we would maintain or enhance this position.

 Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety. The first nine of the latest generation of smart motorways have reduced casualty rates by more than 25 per cent.

 Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.”

Last week, attempting to get ahead of the government review, Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told the transport select committee that he would stop any further dynamic hard shoulder schemes as he deemed them too “confusing” for motorists who are often unsure of when to use hard shoulder. However, according to O’Sullivan, there is no evidence to date that smart motorways are any less safe than conventional motorways. He told MPs that out of 85 motorway fatalities in the past 12 months, 77 of those were on conventional motorways, and eight on smart motorways. However the smart motorways are believed to carry a higher proportion of traffic per kilometre.

Speaking to the Commons Transport Select Committee, the Secretary of State for Transport said: “I have asked my department to carry out an evidence stock-take to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.” The department would lead the review “because some of the statistics have been difficult to understand, and we know people are dying on smart motorways”. He added: “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.”

*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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