The roll-out and safety of smart motorways (report)

Organisation: House of Commons Transport Committee
Date of Publication: November 2021
Uploaded to Knowledge Centre: 2 November 2021

The Transport Committee is calling on the Government to pause the rollout of all-lane running (ALR) motorways until five-years of safety data is available for all schemes introduced before 2020.

In this report, the Transport Committee describes the available data on the safety of ALR motorways as ‘limited and volatile’.

The Committee notes that five-years of safety data is currently only available for 29 miles of ALR motorway – adding that the DfT and National Highways should pause the rollout until the same data is available for the remaining 112 miles introduced before 2020.

The Transport Committee also wants the rollout of new ALR schemes to be paused until safety improvements outlined in the Government’s action plan – launched by transport secretary Grant Shapps in March 2020 – have been introduced and independently evaluated.

The action plan includes measures to address issues including the time taken to reach broken down vehicles in live lanes and the distance between emergency refuge areas.

The Transport Committee report notes that the while Government and National Highways are taking steps to make all-lane running motorways safer, ‘it is too early to judge the effectiveness of those measures’ – but is concerned whether they will be successful. 

It is calling on the DfT and National Highways to retrofit emergency refuge areas on existing ALR motorways at a maximum of 1,500 metres apart – decreasing to every 1,000 metres where possible – rather than the current distance of up to 2.5km.

As well as this, the Committee would like concerns over whether stopped vehicle detection technology is effective and reliable – and whether emergency services and traffic patrol officers will still struggle to access incidents, especially when traffic is congested – to be addressed.

The report also asks the DfT and National Highways to consider alternative options for enhancing capacity on the Strategic Road Network.

It notes that other smart motorway designs, such as controlled motorways and dynamic hard shoulder motorways, have lower casualty rates than ALR motorways.

Report slams initial roll-out of smart motorways
The report is largely critical of the roll-out of smart motorways, describing communication to the public as ‘woeful’.

It notes how successive administrations, the DfT and Highways England (the predecessor of National Highways) ‘underestimated the scale of safety measures needed effectively and reliably to mitigate the risks’ associated with the permanent removal of the hard shoulder on ALR motorways. 

It adds there has also been a failure to deliver safety improvements to ALR motorways in a timely fashion, despite promises to previous Transport Committees that such improvements would be prioritised.  

It concludes that six years after their introduction, many people do not understand what ALR motorways are and what to do if they break down in a live lane.

However, it acknowledges that the current transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and roads minister, Baroness Vere, have taken steps to address safety and delivery failures.

Download the report from the website