Poll: UK to pause smart motorway rollout

In this week’s poll we’re asking for your reactions to the UK government’s decision to pause the roll out and introduction of new smart motorway schemes

The rollout of new all lane running smart motorway schemes will be paused until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available, the UK government has announced.

smart motorway
Smart motorway in England, UK with light trails signifying busy traffic at rush hour. Image: Callum via stock.adobe.com

The decision follows a transport select committee report published in November which concluded that the Department for Transport and Highways England has failed to deliver on promises to implement safety improvements for all-lane running Smart Motorways.

Although both bodies have claimed that smart motorways are comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates, the absence of a hard shoulder on all lane running motorways has contributed to a number of deaths in recent years, and Road safety campaigners have been calling for a rethink on the government’s plans.

During the five year hiatus the Department for Transport (DfT) is to invest £900m to improve safety on existing smart motorways rather than reinstating hard shoulders. This includes £390m for more than 150 additional emergency areas across the network, as well as funding for measures including stopped vehicle detection and concrete central reservation barriers.

While further data is being collected, National Highways will continue work to complete schemes that are currently in construction, and design work will continue on those schemes already being planned.

National Highways will also pause the conversion of dynamic hard shoulder (DHS) motorways – where the hard shoulder is open at busy times – into all lane running motorways while it investigates alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers.

“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps.

Road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose young son Dev died on the hard shoulder of the M6 in 2018 after a lorry hit his grandfather’s car, welcomed the pause saying: “I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900m to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died. However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for autonomous emergency braking and further support for ongoing driver education.

In this week’s poll we’re asking for your views on the government’s decision. Do you think its taking the right approach or should it be going further and abandoning the idea all together? Have your say by voting in our poll, and expand on your views on smart motorways in the comments below the line.

Commenting on the announcement Jamil Ahmed, distinguished engineer at Ottawa-based middleware company Solace, said: “Current challenges stem from drivers not reacting fast enough to detect and move out of lane for a broken-down vehicle. Overhead gantries with the red x’s are either not coming on in time to protect the stopped vehicle and its passengers, or drivers are not responding to them fast enough.”

“The answer is simply to not allow normal traffic to use those lanes, returning to the previous status quo the general public desires. Instead, similar to the way bus lanes work, only certain classes of vehicles will be allowed to enter that section of the motorway. Critically, these vehicles must be imbued with requisite technology by way of sensors and automated braking to ensure public safety.”

“This lays the foundation for a future of truly smart motorways where those lanes can be limited to lorries travelling in very efficient platooning convoys, coupled with ‘eHighway’ technology for overhead electricity supply, creating a green and climate-friendly solution to our motorway haulage challenges.  The government can showcase a green solution that adds immediate value for business and public alike.”