Smart motorways blasted as ‘lethal’ and ‘dangerous’ in new poll

Smart motorways are a 'broken system' says Madeley in January

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Smart motorways are designed to allow for flexibility in response to live incidents and breakdowns with gantry signage informing motorists. However, a new poll of readers has found widespread opposition to smart motorways in the UK’s road network. There are three types of smart motorway: controlled, dynamic hard shoulder, and all lane running — making up a combined 369 miles, equivalent to 19.3 percent of the motorway network.

National Highways is responsible for operating, maintaining, and improving motorways in England, including monitoring the running of smart motorways.  

In January the Department for Transport announced the roll-out of smart motorways would be paused until five years’ worth of safety data had been collected and analysed.

Last week, a report by the Office for Rail and Road revealed the shortcomings and missed targets in the technology used to detect broken-down vehicles on smart motorways.

The first annual assessment of safety performance on the strategic road network showed around two in three (67.5 percent) of stopped vehicles were identified — below the National Highways’ minimum requirement of 80 percent.

It also found that the target time to detect a stopped vehicle of 20 seconds was also being missed with four out of five of National Highways’ regions with smart motorways recording times between 23 and 65 seconds.

The Transport Committee responded to the report, and Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South and Chair of the Transport Committee Iain Stewart said: “The statistics revealed today by the Office for Rail and Road raise considerable concerns about the performance of National Highways in protecting drivers on smart motorways. This is putting lives at risk.

“The idea that in some regions of the country less than 60 percent of stopped vehicles were detected on smart motorways is chilling. In addition, the fact that, in some areas, it took over 60 seconds for a stopped vehicle to be detected is also deeply concerning. Every second counts when cars, coaches and lorries are driving at up to 70 mph and there’s no hard shoulder.”

The RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, urged National Highways to get on top of their targets. He said: “Breaking down in a live lane is terrifying enough but drivers must have confidence that the infrastructure is detecting them quickly so authorities can immediately close the lane.”

National Highways Chief executive Nick Harris said they aim to meet performance targets by the end of June 2023 and announced £105million to build further resilience into the operational technology.

In a poll that ran from 9.45am on Wednesday, December 14, to 3pm on Friday, December 23, asked readers: “Do you support smart motorways?”

Overall, 2,807 votes were cast, with with the vast majority of readers, 96 percent (2,702 people) answering “no” against smart motorways.

Whereas three percent (91 people) said “yes” they do support them, and a further one percent (14 people) said they did not know either way.

Dozens of comments were left below the accompanying article as readers shared their thoughts on the new traffic management methods.


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Many readers argued against the UK’s smart motorways, with username Norfolk Boy commenting: “They are not smart at all. They are lethal.”

Username MarlowRobinson agreed, writing: “They are death traps and the stupidest idea ever — bring back the hard shoulder which is safer if you have a breakdown.”

Similarly, username ValBrooker said: “Absolutely not, they are very dangerous. Its taken responsibility away for one’s own safety and handed it to others who may or may not follow road instructions. It only takes one driver to miss the instructions or ignore them to cause fatalities.”

And username Dave spur added: “No, they are dangerous scrap them now.”

Meanwhile, other readers agreed that smart motorways posed a risk to public safety. Username “.” said: “No! They are an expensive disaster and health and safety concern for the UK population!”

Username Adrian617 said: “They are dangerous to road users and cause more traffic than they solve, it always seems that the operators of these so-called smart motorways treat the impact of controlling traffic as a game.”

And username Dell Gee remarked: “They are a recipe for disaster. They should be scrapped.”

However, some readers saw the benefits that smart motorways could bring to the road network’s efficacy. Username factus said: “I support smart motorways, but the warning system needs to be auto-triggering with signs much closer together.”

Smart motorways were first introduced to the UK’s network in 2014 and research has found there to be 63 fatalities on stretches of smart motorways between 2015 and 2019. Meanwhile, 368 people died during the same period on conventional motorways.

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