Smart Transport

ORR report supports smart motorway safety claims

Smart motorway

A new report by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) supports National Highway’s findings that smart motorways are “the safest roads in the country in terms of fatalities”.

Smart motorways, also known as all-lane running (ALR) motorways have been under fire after a BBC Panorama investigation found almost 40 people have been killed on them in the last five years. Safety campaigners and South Yorkshire police crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings called for them to be banned earlier this year, labelling them  “inherently unsafe and dangerous”.

A review into smart motorways, commissioned by transport secretary Grant Shapps found that "in most ways", smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones.

The report suggested that risks such as tailgating, rapid changes of vehicle speeds, vehicles drifting off the carriageway and vehicles being driven too fast were  lower on smart motorways compared with conventional motorways.

However, there was an admission that some risks are higher than on conventional motorways, for example the risk of a collision between a moving and stationary vehicle.

The Government introduced a number of measures to addresses those risks and also requested ORR conduct an independent review of the data and evidence concerning the safety of smart motorways. 

The ORR's review found that there were no underlying errors in the data and evidence used in the stocktake and the progress report and it was used robustly by both, what was then, Highways England (now National Highways) and the Department for Transport. 

The review highlighted the act that there is a lack of long-term data available. It said that this is largely due to the fact that smart motorways are relatively new and there is limited data available to make definitive conclusions about their relative safety.

The ORR has made a number of recommendations to help strengthen the data and analysis used, as well as how risks can be managed.

One such recommendation is to ensure that the before and after analysis is strengthened and reviewed more regularly to better reflect the specifics of each scheme rather than the use of national trends.

The ORR also found some anomalies and inconsistencies in the hazard log used by the company during our review. It therefore recommended that National Highways makes its Generic Hazard Log more complete with additional forms of analysis used to complement the company’s approach, and to gather additional data, if possible, to better understand the risk exposure to road users. For example, the company could work with motor insurers to gain access to information regarding no-injury collisions.

Shapps said: "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."

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