30 Oct 2019

End of the Road for Smart Motorways

No more dynamic, smart motorways will be built after they were brandished “too complicated for people to use."

Highways England boss Jim O’Sullivan made the statement after claiming motorists didn’t understand them and found them confusing.

What are smart motorways?

They are designed to reduce congestion on roads by turning the hard shoulder into another active traffic lane at busy times. There are three types of smart motorway, according to the AA:

  • Controlled motorway – variable speed limits and a hard shoulder for use in emergencies.
  • Hard shoulder running – variable speed limits, a hard shoulder that can be opened during rush hours, and overhead signs to denote usage.
  • All lanes running – no hard shoulder and regular emergency refuge areas.

Why are they controversial?

Since their inception, there have been a number of deaths attributed to the use of smart motorways, whereby the hard shoulder is turned into an active lane during busy periods.

The BBC reported on Derek Jacobs, who was killed when his car was hit after stopping on a smart motorway, while Jason Mercer died when he got out of his vehicle to exchange details following a minor collision, only to be struck by a lorry.

In total, there have been eight deaths on smart motorways.

They’re just too complicated for people to use."

Chief Executive of Highways England Jim O'Sullivan

What has been said about them?

According to Sky, head of Highway England Jim O’Sullivan told MPs; “I don’t think we will be building any more dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways. They’re just too complicated for people to use.”

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, told MPs, according to the Telegraph; “we know people are dying on smart motorways” before demanding a “stock-take of evidence” to work out how safe they are.

The Telegraph also quoted Edmund King, the AA President, saying; “We have been raising concerns for more than six years about the dangers of the 38% who breakdown in a live lane on smart motorways.”

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