The Dangers of Smart Motorways

In part one of our series on smart motorways, we explained how smart motorways work and the technology behind now. In part 2, we go into the issues with them and what the UK government is doing about it.

Smart Motorways, the stretches of road that utilises the latest technology to regulate traffic flow, have been built to ease traffic congestion across the UK motorway system. However, these changes have often resulted in a key motorway safety feature – the hard shoulder.

So our smart motorways really as dangerous as what their critics suggest? And what, if anything, should be done about it?

What are the risks of smart motorways?

The removal of a permanent hard shoulder has been linked to deaths on smart motorways in recent years. In 2019 during an interview, the government told BBC Panorama that 38 people had died on smart motorways since they were introduced in 2014.

The government have faced growing criticism on this subject. The removal of the hard shoulder has led to motorists being trapped in a ‘live’ lane by speeding traffic in the event of a breakdown or other emergency.

This has led to a five-year pause in the rollout of further smart motorways whilst the Government reviews the current situation.

A recent YouGov Poll has highlighted the concerns that motorists have with the rollout of Smart Motorways. A shocking 64% of people asked thought that they were less safe than motorways with hard shoulders. That figure rose to an astonishing 82% amongst people over 65.

What is the UK Government doing about it?

The UK government is pausing the smart motorway rollout for five years to allow them to gather more safety data on the existing stretches of smart motorways that have already been built.

Highways England will also be investing close to one billion pounds to improve safety on the stretches of smart motorways that have already been built. Of that, £390 million will be used to add more emergency refuge areas.

This investment should lead to a 50% increase in areas to stop on smart motorways by 2025.

The Government plans on making a decision on smart motorways once all the data has been assessed.

Why were smart motorways originally introduced?

Traffic congestion is a growing problem in the UK that smart motorways aim to tackle.

Widening motorway sections is an expensive undertaking. Smart motorways offer a cheaper solution by using a feature that is already built – the hard shoulder.