Transport secretary Grant Shapps has issued a written statement to parliament, providing an update on all lane running motorways.
All lane running (ALR) is the most common type of ‘smart motorway’ used in the UK. They were introduced in 2014 and involve opening the hard shoulder permanently to drivers.
The Government has frequently reiterated that ALR motorways are one of the safest types of road in the country – pointing to data which shows drivers are 33% more likely to be involved in a fatal collision on a conventional motorway, than on an ALR motorway.
However, fears remain about their safety among drivers and those within the road safety sector, heightened by a number of fatal collisions involving stationary cars being hit from behind.
In response to these fears, Mr Shapps commissioned an evidence stocktake – the findings of which, published in March 2020, set out recommendations ‘to raise the bar on safety’.
This included the ‘biggest ever’ campaign to help drivers feel safer on the country’s motorways – launched in March 2021.
Mr Shapps’ written statement, published on 7 September, provides an update on the actions from the evidence stocktake, while also outlining the findings of the ORR Quality Assurance of All Lane Running Motorway data report.
The ORR independently reviewed the data used by the Government, to provide further analytical assurance and ensure that the conclusions arrived at are robust.
The statement in full:
I have on several occasions announced to this house the importance of road safety to me and my department. After hearing the public’s concerns about smart motorway safety, I commissioned an evidence stocktake and set out recommendations to raise the bar on safety. This was one of my first acts as secretary of state for transport.
The subsequent evidence stocktake was published in March 2020 and showed that ALR motorways are in most ways as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones. I was determined to make sure they were the safest roads in Britain and to this end, I announced a package of 18 measures, costing £500 million, which includes the faster rollout of a radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) across the ALR network, including an additional £5 million on national and targeted communications campaigns to ensure drivers receive the right advice to help them keep safe.
Other actions included an update to The Highway Code to include new information about driving on high-speed roads, which has been achieved this year, six months earlier than scheduled. We have also changed the law to enable automatic detection of vehicles driving in closed lanes, known as red ‘X’ violations and National Highways (formerly Highways England) is upgrading specialist cameras to help better identify violations so those drivers can be prosecuted.
A year on, I commissioned a progress report from National Highways to set out progress on those 18 actions and to develop proposals about how several of them can be accelerated, going above and beyond what was originally committed to. The progress report was also an opportunity to review updated data since the 2020 Stocktake. Crucially, the data contained in the report published in April 2021 continues to show that fatal casualties are less likely on ALRs than on conventional ones.
The National Highways progress report drew its evidence from data and analysis of the 2019 STATS19 official statistics and produced by National Highways. I know that there has been considerable public and media interest in understanding motorway accident and fatality data and in March 2021 I commissioned the Office of Rail and Road to independently review the data to provide further analytical assurance and ensure that the conclusions arrived at are robust.
The ORR’s report, Quality Assurance of All Lane Running motorway data, is published today (7 September 2021). I welcome the ORR’s review and their conclusion that they found no errors in the underlying calculations, and all the products and processes reviewed are in line with established practice.
This was a thorough undertaking; the ORR drew on its expertise as the monitor of England’s strategic road network. The ORR analysed detailed information, interviewed relevant staff at both National Highways and the Department for Transport, and reviewed the evidence submitted to the Transport Select Committee inquiry, which commenced in February 2021.
To provide additional expertise and challenge, ORR took independent analytical advice from a specialist consultancy and involved the non-executive chair of its National Highways Committee. This was done to ensure the conclusions and recommendations arrived are as robust and comprehensive as possible. The report supports National Highway’s findings that smart motorways are the safest roads in the country in terms of fatalities.
The ORR’s report contains several recommendations for improvement that will strengthen our understanding of road safety. National Highways has agreed to all its recommendations and developed an action plan in response which is already underway.
My commission for assurance into smart motorway safety data by the ORR is another step towards improving road safety and instilling public confidence in the safety of our roads, which make a crucial contribution to economic and social development in this country.