Government to review smart motorways

07.53 | 25 October 2019 |

Image: Highways England

The Government has cast doubt over the future of smart motorways, launching a review into the safety of the schemes.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday (24 Oct), transport secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged that ministers had ‘concerns’ over smart motorways.

Mr Shapps said recommendations are expected “in a matter of weeks” to ensure all motorways are “as safe as they possibly can be”.

Mr Shapps said: “I have asked my department to carry out, at pace, an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.”

Mr Shapps added that the statistics on smart motorways are hard to understand.

He said: “Understanding whether they are less safe, the same or safer turns out not to be as straightforward as members might imagine. 

“I want all of those facts and I want recommendations to be put in place to ensure all of our motorways are as safe as they can possibly be.”

Doubts from the head of Highways England?
First introduced in 2006 (on the M42), smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion.

There are two types of smart motorway in the UK. The first, often referred to as ‘dynamic’, is where the hard shoulder is opened to traffic during busy periods. The second is where the hard shoulder is open all the time.

Speaking in front of the Transport Committee on 23 October, Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England conceded dynamic smart motorways are “too complicated for people to use”.

Mr O’Sullivan said he did not think Highways England would build any more dynamic smart motorways because too many motorists do not understand them.

Mr O’Sullivan said: “Some hard shoulders on dynamic smart motorways are only open to running traffic during the morning and evening peaks, but this catches out some drivers when their routine changes.

“When we close it at other times of the day, people still drive down it.

“I don’t think we will be building any more dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways. They’re just too complicated for people to use.”

Mr Sullivan did, however, insist that the schemes are as safe as conventional motorways.



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