Roll out of new smart motorway schemes paused until five years worth of safety data available

The introduction of new intelligent motorway concepts will be suspended to allow the collection of safety data for five years, as can be announced.

It is assumed that the government will then evaluate the data and make an informed decision about the next steps.

Recent data shows that smart highways – which can be opened hard lanes to reduce traffic jams and speed limits are changed to better manage vehicle flow – “are the safest roads in the country in terms of death rate by comparison”.

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But while the program is on hold, the Department for Transport (DoT) is investing £ 900 million to improve safety on existing All Lane Running (ALR) highways.

It will ensure that current smart highways without permanent hard shoulder are equipped with first-class technology and resources to make them as safe as possible.

This includes an investment of £ 390 million to create more than 150 additional emergency areas so drivers have more stops when they run into trouble. By 2025, the number of stops will increase by around 50 percent, which gives drivers additional security.

DoT welcomed the report from the Transport Committee, which reaffirmed its focus on further improving the safety of existing ALR smart highways rather than restoring the hard shoulder.

Evidence suggests that hard shoulders are not always a safe place to stop and, with the reduction in freeway capacity, more drivers and passengers could be at risk of death or serious injury if they divert to less safe local roads.

“One of my first actions as Secretary of Transportation was to order an inventory of smart highways, and I’ve been working hard ever since to raise the bar for their safety,” said Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps.

“I would like to thank the Transport Committee and everyone who has proven its work.

“While our initial data shows that smart highways are some of the safest roads in the UK, it is vital that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

“Pausing plans that have yet to begin construction and millions of pounds of improvements to existing plans will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to take our next steps. I want to thank security activists, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly seeking higher standards on our roads. I share your concerns. “

Nick Harris, CEO of National Highways, said, “We have listened to public concerns about smart highways and are determined to move forward with the additional measures recommended by the Transportation Committee.

“While we are still pausing all of these lane timetables to start construction, we will finalize the plans currently under construction, we will make the existing sections as safe as possible and we will reinforce our advice to drivers so that they have all the information have that they must have.

“We do this because safety is our top priority and we want drivers not only to be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”

Independent road safety activist Meera Naran, whose eight-year-old son Dev died in a motorway accident on the M6 ​​in 2018, said: “Traditional and smart highways have their risks and benefits.

“I welcome this break in the rollout of Smart Highways, which gives us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network positively.

“I am encouraged by the £ 900 million pledge to improve the safety of our highways, having stood up since Dev’s death.

“I will, however, continue to challenge and work with the Department of Transportation to ensure that more is done, including asking them to review autonomous braking legislation and continue to support ongoing driver training.”

The government’s response to the Transport Committee builds on the significant progress already made on the ministry’s 18-point action plan to improve smart highway safety announced in March 2020, including recording emergency areas and upgrading cameras for Detection of Red-X violations.

Actions taken under the Inventory and Transportation Committee’s response represent total improvements of over £ 900m, including £ 390m in new funding for additional emergency areas, with the remainder of the funding providing other measures such as vehicle stop detection and specific central reservation barriers .

National Highways will also increase communications so drivers have better information about driving on smart highways.

While the Department of Transport will adopt all of the recommendations made by the committee, it does not share the view that smart highways were introduced prematurely or unsafe.

All of ALR’s intelligent motorway concepts are and will be subject to high standards of planning, risk assessment and construction, followed by detailed monitoring and evaluation once they are cleared to traffic.

As more data is collected, National Highways will continue to work on completing the systems currently under construction, all of which will be opened with stationary vehicle detection technology.

These plans are all more than 50 percent complete and if progress were stopped now it would cause significant disruption for drivers. The design work will also continue on the schemes that have already been planned, so that they can be built depending on the outcome of the break. There is no preparatory construction work taking place.

National Highways will also pause the conversion of dynamic hard shoulder (DHS) highways – where the hard shoulder is open during rush hour – into highways with all lanes on hold while exploring alternative ways of operating to make things easier for drivers.

National Highways will also install technology to detect vehicles stopped on these sections.

Where are the smart highways in Birmingham?

M6 – Junction 4 to 10a (dynamic hard shoulder)

M6 – Junction 10a to 13 (drive all lanes)

M42 – junction 3a to M40 – junction 16 (controlled)

M42 – Port 7 to 9 (dynamic hard shoulder)

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