Highways England defends smart motorways in inquiry evidence - International Burch University
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Highways England defends smart motorways in inquiry evidence

Highways England has defended smart motorways in its submission to the transport select committee’s smart motorways inquiry.

In its evidence, the roads operator says that smart motorways “deliver much needed additional capacity and maintain safety, at the same time as realising significant benefits over conventional motorways”.

These benefits include smoother journeys; reduced disruption for road users, businesses and local communities, through quicker, less complex design and construction; and better communication with drivers using electronic signage.

Highways England does, however, acknowledge that the risk of a live lane collision between a moving vehicle and a stopped vehicle is “greater on all-lane running (ALR) and dynamic hard shoulder (DHS) motorways” – an admission also made in the Department for Transport’s evidence.

Highways England’s submission adds: “But the risk of a collision between two or more moving vehicles is lower. This is because ALR and DHS motorways have variable mandatory speed limits to smooth traffic flow, and electronic signs and signals to warn drivers of incidents ahead. This means less speeding, tailgating and fewer rapid changes of speed, which gives drivers more time to react if something happens.”

Highways England has consistently maintained that smart motorways are “as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways”.

In its evidence, the roads operator refers to its Smart motorways stocktake first year progress report – published in April – which said that the return of hard shoulders would increase congestion, causing drivers to divert to less safe roads and leading to more accidents.

According to the report, Highways England is now accelerating a number of actions to improve the safety of the roads. These cover providing greater clarity to drivers, safe spaces to stop and being safer in moving traffic.

A Highways England spokesperson said: “Our key objective has always been that any stretch of road that is converted to a smart motorway is at least as safe as it was before conversion, and in terms of fatality rates, smart motorways are the safest roads in the country.

“We recently committed to a raft of measures to further boost safety, including ensuring every new all lane running motorway opens with technology in place to spot stopped vehicles.

“We have submitted evidence to the transport select committee’s inquiry where issues related to smart motorways are being debated, and will be appearing before the committee to respond to the members’ questions.”

The safety of smart motorways – where the hard shoulder has been replaced by a live traffic lane – has been repeatedly called into question.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has defended the roads but in March he conceded that they should be safer. As such, he said that the rollout of stopepd vehicle detection technology would be “sped up” across all of Highways England’s 800km smart motorway network.

Last month, the road operator was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for manslaughter in connection with the death of a woman on the M1 2018, while another inquest concluded that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two men near junction 34 of the M1 in June 2019.

The DfT has also asked the Office of Rail and Road to carry out an independent review of Highways England’s data and a report is expected by the end of June.

Analysis: smart motorways safety campaign

Earlier this year Highways England launched a road safety campaign, including a television advert, along with radio, social media and online elements. 

Its submission to the inquiry includes the results of a ‘mid-wave’ evaluation of the campaign to understand the views of 1285 people aged 17+ in England who ever drive on motorways and major A-roads. The mid-wave analysis showed:

  • Just under half the target audience spontaneously recall seeing the advert or associated communications relating to what to do in the event of a motorway breakdown
  • When prompted, over half the target audience recognise at least one element of the campaign (53%). Television (41%) and radio advertising (39%) are most well recognised
  • The campaign is more likely to have been seen or heard by those aged 17-24, or those aged 55+
  • The campaign is seen to be clear (89%), memorable (80%) and relevant (72%). The advice, songs and humour tend to be more well liked than disliked (liked by around half of the target audience and disliked by only around 1 in 10)
  • When asked which messaging they spontaneously recall, ‘move left’ is the highest spontaneously recalled theme.


Department of Civil Engineering: https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/