Smart Transport

DfT will decide future of smart motorways this summer

Smart motorway

The Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed it will set out the future for smart motorways this summer.

The future of smart motorways has been called into question after a spate of fatal crashes, one of which has resulted in Highways England being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on a potential charge of corporate manslaughter.

The DfT is currently reviewing a report from Highways England detailing its progress in delivering an 18-point action plan “to raise the bar on safety” for smart motorways or “all lane running (ALR) motorways.

The department put £500 million of measures in place in March 2020 including the faster rollout of a radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) across the ALR motorway network

Transport secretary Grant Shapps says: “Work is rapidly being completed to assess report, including stocktake actions, and to establish next steps.

“The report will be published by summer, once I am assured that the proposals are sufficiently robust.”

An independent review is needed

However, Shapps made it clear the report “will not mark the end of the process” and he is determined to ensure “all possible actions to make ALR motorways safer are explored”.

The latest safety evidence drawn from data and analysis of the 2019 STATS19 Road Safety Data official statistics will be contained within the summer report on ALR.

Shapps says: "There has been considerable public and media interest in understanding motorway accident and fatality data and I have commissioned the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to independently review the data to provide further analytical assurance and ensure that the conclusions arrived at are robust."

The ORR is the independent statutory monitor of Highways England and its management of the strategic road network.

Within this role, the ORR already scrutinises Highways England’s delivery of the smart motorway stocktake actions, and its performance against its road safety KPIs.

However, Shapps says there may be scope to go further.

He added: "In addition to asking ORR to undertake an independent review of the available safety evidence on ALR motorways, my officials will explore what further independent scrutiny may be appropriate."

Conultancy Royal HaskoningDHV has already published the results of its motorway safety report that found the risk of being involved in a live lane breakdown on an smart motorways in England is 216% higher than on a standard motorway, as there is no hard shoulder for drivers’ refuge in the event of a collision or breakdown.

Royal HaskoningDHV was commissioned as independent consultants by law firm Irwin Mitchell, as part of their work representing the family of Jason Mercer who died while driving on an ALR motorway. 

Sarah Simpson, a transport planner with 20 years of experience at Royal HaskoningDHV, who authored the report, said: “Looking forward, the changes in travel habits as a result of Covid-19 and the insights of the report highlight an opportunity to revisit the role of smart motorways in England – as well as their safety.”

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