Minister backs roll out of 'smart motorways' despite safety fears

Minister backs roll out of 'smart motorways' despite  safety fears

Minister says ‘smart motorways’ that allow traffic to use the hard shoulder at busy times WILL be rolled out across the UK despite public fears over their safety

  • Baroness Vere admitted to ‘gap’ between public and political perception of roads
  • All lane running smart motorways involve hard shoulder being converted for use 
  • DfT and Highways England say they are at least as safe as normal motorways
  • But concerns after fatal accidents involving stationary vehicles hit from behind 

The Government will continue to roll out ‘smart’ motorways despite public safety concerns, a senior minister confirmed today.

Baroness Vere admitted there is still a ‘gap’ between the position of the Department for Transport and Highways England – which claim the roads are at least as safe as conventional motorways – and public perception.

There are concerns about the safety of all lane running (ALR) smart motorways – which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane – due to several fatal accidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.  

 Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, the peer  said: ‘There is a gap. We have been working very hard to close it.

‘I will say that we probably need to work a little harder on getting advocates and presenting the evidence.’

But she added: ‘It is the case that the policy continues that we will roll out all-lane running motorways as set out in the … delivery plan.’

Baroness Vere admitted there is still a ‘gap’ between the position of the Department for Transport and Highways England – which claim the roads are at least as safe as conventional motorways – and public perception.

There are concerns about the safety of all lane running (ALR) smart motorways – which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane – due to several fatal accidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.

In April, Highways England described smart motorways as ‘the safest roads in the country’, stating the number of fatalities per distance driven was a third higher on conventional motorways than ALR motorways.

It said 15 people were killed on motorways without a permanent hard shoulder in 2019, up from 11 in 2018.

Baroness Vere told the committee it can be ‘very difficult’ to ‘bring the public with us’, because road safety measures are becoming based on ‘data and digitisation’ rather than physical interventions such as the central reservation.

The minister said she and Highways England will be ‘very focused on’ explaining that smart motorways are a ‘system of systems’.

This will include promoting the Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling (Midas) system, which involves sensors in the road detecting the movement of vehicles.

‘There are many systems in there that make you safer,’ Baroness Vere said. ‘You’ve got eyes in the sky, you’ve got eyes in the ground with the Midas system.

‘You can see what is going on. You cannot do that on conventional motorways, it doesn’t happen.

‘And that’s the message that we absolutely need to get out there.’ 

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