‘How many more people must die before you will make a decision and immediately suspend the use of the hard shoulder for driving traffic? Enough is enough,’ says shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, as the smart motorway danger dispute continues.
The plea was written in a letter sent to transport secretary, Grant Shapps, last week after he announced that smart motorways are set to stay as removing them would do more harm than good.
Mr McMahon’s concerns are shared by many motoring organisations after it was revealed that 44 people have died on smart motorways over the last five years, potentially due to the lack of hard shoulder. Some also suggest that the roads were poorly designed, with designated refuge areas too far apart and smart technology used to spot stationary vehicles too slow to be installed.
Despite the fact that smart motorways were designed originally to improve driving experience across Britain, reducing congestion and better controlling traffic, it seems that these roads have failed to live up to their ‘smart’ name.
‘Why these things were ever called smart motorways when they seem to be anything but, I think was a misnomer,’ said Mr Shapps, when addressing the issue this week.
He went on to acknowledge the well-known problems with smart motorways, and admitted that he would like to see some things changed: ‘I don’t want to carry on with what we’ve seen of smart motorways, the system I’ve inherited… I wouldn’t have gone about it like this, and I don’t approve of the fact that emergency areas were being spaced way too far apart.’
‘I’d have said they have to be ideally three-quarters of a mile apart, no more than a mile, and I’ve ordered Highways England to get on with it.’
While it is clear that Mr Shapps is keen to make some alterations to these roads to improve their overall safety levels, he warned that scrapping them all together would not be possible without significant disruption.
[Image Source: Shutterstock, Feb 2021]
What would scrapping smart motorways entail?
When asked to give reason for his lack of commitment to reversing smart motorways, Mr Shapps suggested that this process would be less than ‘desirable’ as it would involve destroying large swathes of Green Belt, causing massive disruption for nearby homes:
‘A lot of people say just undo it, and I’ve looked at that, and it would require the equivalent of land of 700 Wembley stadium-sized football pitches to somehow undo all of this, and we’d have to buy people’s homes, destroy acres of Green Belt – I don’t think there’s a route through to simply undo it. We’ve got to make what’s there safe.’
He also suggested that to reverse smart motorways altogether would be going against the evidence as statistics show death rates are lower on smart motorways than on conventional motorways.
‘I’m not sure it would be desirable, given the death rates are higher on conventional motorways, so you would be essentially doing so going against the evidence, which would be the wrong thing to do.’
Instead, he offered a solution that would enable smart motorways to stay while reducing the risk to driver safety: ‘I think the right thing to do is put all these additional safety measures in place.’
These measures would include installing technology that can rapidly identify stationary vehicles, as well as decreasing the gap between refuge areas.
Regardless of the growing controversy surrounding these motorways, others have stepped out in support of Grant Shapps and his plans to improve their safety without revising them entirely:
‘As soon as the Transport Secretary took office he recognised the concerns around smart motorway safety and commissioned an urgent stocktake of the evidence, which we published a year ago – along with a £500-million, 18-point, action plan to make them safer still,’ said a spokesman for the Department of Transport.
AA president, Edmund King, also showed support for the decision by saying: ‘To give the Transport Secretary some credit, he is the only minister to date who has taken the safety of ‘smart’ motorways seriously and has pushed Highways England to make them safer.’
‘In the meantime, we hope he wastes no time in making these motorways the safest they can possibly be, be retrofitting more emergency laybys.’
Mr Shapps concluded by reassuring concerned parties that he is ‘not going to build things called smart motorways, but I want all of our motorways to be a lot better, a lot safer.’
Do you think smart motorways should be reversed? Or are you happy that they’re set to stay with imporved safety meausres?
Tell us in the comments.
they should scrap them ASAP, I broke down last year on a smart motorway, It was raining & dark & there was no lights on the motorway, I managed to get my van going again but loud knocking noises but I had to get out of that lane, I ended up damaging the engine even more as I should have stopped, I’ve been driving for over 40 years & never been so scared of being killed, I was standing in front of my van mending it while artic lorries etc were trying to avoid me, I’d like to leave Mr Shapps on that motorway in front of his car & see how long before something hits him. Absolutely CRAZY IDEA, it just shows that most of the people at the top haven’t got a clue, sack them all & employ people that have common sense & Morals.
Well must say they help with th congestion. I WONT USE MOTORWAYS……..too damn scary.
The transport minister says he would not have done it like it is, he would have more lay bye’s
Are we electing lunatics? If we break down between these, don’t matter if it is 10 yards, we are deepen the poo.
transport Minister………have a word with your doctor, you need help.
Reverse this stupidity NOW.
Yes further improvement with more emergency areas will help. Smart motorways are getting a lot of press with most focus on the negative which is understandable. What we not told in the media is the motorway is our safest road and our motorway is the safest in Europe. 93% of all incidents on our roads are driver rider error. If drivers followed the rules with good concentration and good observations there would be very few incidents. If drivers educated themselves on Smart motorways and worked with with its principles it would become even safer than it is already.
I am not diminishing the awfulness of those who have lost a loved one, that is terrible. There is another side to the argument regarding live lanes and breaking down. Where a hard shoulder is present that in actual fact is where many fatal collisions occur. Why were we not crying our for hard shoulders to be removed? Because that was never highlighted in the media. The reality is doing away with the hard shoulder is actually helping to make the motorway safer!! It may sound counter intuitive but since emergency areas have been introduced there have been no fatal collisions in them 🙂 During a recent assessment of smart motorways 9206 vehicles broke down in a live lane. How many were actually hit? 19, that means there is a 0.2% chance of being hit in a live lane. There is a greater chance of being hit on a hard shoulder!
Hi Paul please report your experience to your MP. Believe it or not they are not all yes people, the more people complain maybe something may get done. I keep writing to the Highways dept. so much so they have refused to reply to me now. The more the merrier, your story should interest them.
Sorry to hear you had that experience.
You increased the risk to yourself though by trying to repair the vehicle yourself. Get out on the left get over the barrier and call for help.
If these Motorways were that ‘smart’ in the first place how come they need improving?
‘smart’ seems tbe a euphamism for tecnology that is supposed to make our lives better, when in fact they are so darned complicated many of us just are not ‘smart’ enough to undestand them.
I love Lockdown! – shut in 4 walls for 49 weeks, no ‘smart’ TV or ‘smart’ phone to worry about. Haha
As usual, no matter how many experts are of the opinion that ‘smart’ motorways are dangerous, our MP’s (who in general aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer), know better.
The funniest part of this story is Grant Shapps’ comment that undoing them, “would involve destroying large swathes of Green Belt, causing massive disruption for nearby homes”. This, from a Government ploughing on relentlessly, and wasting £100 BILLION (up to now), with the white Elephant HS2, which is destroying large swathes of Green Belt, causing massive disruption for nearby homes.
You just couldn’t make it up.
The HS2 project is going ahead because of vested interests if you know what I mean. Another project that can’t be scrapped because too much spent already.
But there is no explanation why it would destroy the green belt
Because to get a similar benefit you would have to create another lane which means widening the road and encroaching therefore into green belt areas.
put in extra safety area in-between all current ones as they are way to far apart. should be more like 1/2mile apart
And then, having set them at a half-mile spacing, and ensured that each one is long enough to house more than one broken-down articulated lorry, and made them long enough to allow for a sufficient run-up so you can get back up to a reasonable speed before rejoining the motorway, you might find they’ve all joined together. Rather like a hard shoulder…
Whilst there is some validity about being unable to reverse those built we are now being inundated with warnings about delays for many years with the introduction of NEW Dumb motorways(M6). Even the figures about inproved journey time fail to include figures for the massive delays caused by introducing these motorways. I have been suffering delays because of these roadworks for nearly 10 years driving from Warrington to Leeds as different stretches are converted.
Why unable to reverse? Could not be more simple, just revert to the inner lane being the hard shoulder, solid white line and traffic excluded.
Christ might even be able to get an ambulance when needed.
Can’t undo them? Total rubbish.
Get a white lining machine and put a thick solid line one the left hand lane creating a hard shoulder, and make various white line adjustments at junctions and slip roads.
It really is that simple, and disable the signage accordingly.
It is not rocket science.
Why do the transport department have to make everything so complicated when it’s child’s play.
What’s the problem? It’s obvious that they don’t want to admit they were wrong in the first place.
Exactly, it really is as simple as that.
True but obstructive to their money making ideas please see my post which is driven by the root of all evil their evil Smart Motorways make money A TOW MAKES NOWT!.
I agree with all of the comments so far, the notion of ‘Smart’ motorways should be abandoned and the existing schemes reverted back to hard shoulder motorways – I particularly agree with Tim Waite about the simplicity of white line adjustments etc – it is not rocket science to reverse them! I avoid ‘Smart’ motorways when possible, they make me nervous to drive on them.
If Smart Motorways are scrapped would ALL 70 mph dual carriageways have a hard shoulder too?
“Safer Still” was a quote from a department of transport spokesman still pretending that they are currently safe. Luckily there are none where I live (our motorways are still dumb but reasonably safe) but I have encountered them around the Birmingham area on several occasions. What an unpleasant driving experience with vehicles abruptly slowing down and speeding up depending on ever changing gantry speed limits, lanes opening and closing etc. It can’t be safe constantly watching out for flexible limit changes and their associated speed cameras and God help anyone having to stop on the inside lane. Get rid of them ASAP!
They will stay because too much money has been spent already, and it would be like admitting they made a mistake. So for those reasons they will stay. Very bad decision in the first place. They are smart because they can catch more people speeding hence raise more revenue.
The only way to stop this is to charge the Minister or other who brought in this with “aiding and abetting in the death (those who die on a smart motorway)…. of (name of person).
Motorways started in the 1950’s and the hard shoulder was there due to the damage if so one broke down, now the traffic has grown enormously during this period but now its safe to do away with them. There is no lower form of life than a politician.
If i had my way i would take them out disable their car in the middle lane and let us see whether they think it is safe.
Smart motorways should be abandoned before more people are killed or injured. When the motorways were first rolled out, the hard shoulder was hailed as a fanastic safety feature, and it worked; it is time those responsible for the current design to be prosecuted for causing inevitable injury and death.
How can ‘Simply reversing them’ not be an option. To my simple mind you revert the present 4-lane without a hard shoulder back to its previous 3-lane with a hard shoulder. How does that mean taking up Green Belt?
There isn’t any need to reclaim huge amounts of land what about this as an idea shut the live lane that has been created from the original hard shoulder and just carry on as before and the hard shoulder lane will be wider and a lot safer than before also, job done and actually I’m not that smart but I have a few more marbles than the average chauffeur driven minister.
Close the hard shoulders on smart motorways now until the recommended safety measures ie lay bys at no more than 3/4 mile intervals and proper monitoring by camera with instant response available if vehicle shown to be stationary and not just in a queue. The public have not been shown the statistics for death and serious injuries on motorways so there has not been any independent analysis, so I don’t see how the statement ‘smart motorways are safer than ordinary motorways’ can be made. The last year has hardly been a normal year for traffic!
It only takes a split second to get hit from behind by a lorry if you’re tyre blows need a hard shoulder
They are confusing and disconnecting or frightening for those who meet them for the first time or don’t use them regularly. The highway code offers little help and I see many drivers using them wrongly. I don’t like them and am occasionally frightened myself. Where I can easily avoid them I do and lose time but his puts more traffic and pollution onto minor roads; the opposite of what was intended. .
I think whoever thought these smart motorways were a good idea didn’t have a clue as to what actually happens when a motorist breaks down in a ‘live’ lane. The response to close the lane should be IMMEDIATE and alert road users to the potential hazard. Please get rid of these death trap roads asap.
Why would it involve the destruction of green belt etc? No one is asking for the extra lanes to be kept besides getting rid of smart motorways! Just put them back to how they used to be. I’m sure we can live with the (potential) slight increase in congestion. (Emphasis on live.)
One of the worst things about smart motorways is that they normalise driving on a hard shoulder, many of which still have a solid white line. This makes it far more likely that even if you have to stop on a standard, safe motorway, you’ll be hit by someone mistakenly driving on the hard shoulder.
Smart motorways are a death-trap and should be totally scrapped.
On the M27 where they are converting to smart motorway there are accidents almost every day
Smart motorways are, by definition, those with variable speed limits, automatically regulated by the flow and speed of traffic. The absence of a hard shoulder is not the reason to scrap smart motorways altogether, but certainly needs attention. It should be noted that several deaths have resulted from vehicles broken down on hard shoulders being hit by other vehicles, where drivers’ attention to the broken-down vehicles has caused them to steer in that direction. Regrettably many drivers do not adhere to Highway Code rule 126, which would prevent many of these tragedies.
Smart meters ways should be scrapped .
It’s unbelievable. They are another vanity project like HS2. Only an idiot would ever think they could be safer than a conventional motorway with a permanent hard shoulder. I honestly believe the only way through this is for corporate manslaughter charges against the originators and the Ministers who have allowed these to be constructed.
They are called smart because they can craftily catch motorists out by going up to 60 then down to 50 then up to 60. More money for the government. Have you tried driving at 40 on a smart motorway and have a truck pinned to your rear. You could count the flies on his grille.
It’s obvious you have never broken down on a “Smart”motorway.They are so scary.What can be more harmful than 44 deaths in 5 years.They have to rely on human beings and there is always going to be human errors.They need to be alert 24/7 and that is not going to happen.Just make the first lane the hard shoulder and there’s no need to take any green belt land.
They don’t have a problem going through green belt and houses for HS2. If it’s not safe currently then temporary speed limits and lane restrictions need to be applied. This SMART system has been poorly rolled out and has put the public at risk.
Can someone please explain the difference from ordinary roads, without hard shoulders?
And Highway Code rule 275 which explicitly says get out of your car, even on a hard shoulder.
Does no one read this stuff?
Grant Shapps is prevaricating. He’s expressing the costs of adding a hard shoulder to “smart” motorways. The option returning a “smart” motorway to one with a hard shoulder is, of course, to make lane 1 the hard shoulder. All that’s needed is to switch on the red “X” above lane 1. In theory that could be done tomorrow. & then later, repaint the solid white line. Job done. No extra land!
I thought the original plan was that the hard shoulder was only used when necessary – eg slow moving/ gridlocked lanes to ease congestion. It seems they are used all the time
A simple solution is to expand the lengths of the emergency stopping areas. If you look as you are travelling along the motorway there is plenty of room to extend them. Many to over 1/2 a mile in length. Politicians are basically YES people with no common sense.
Same ae the EX Chief Constable of Greater Manchester who was in charge of not reporting over 40,000 crimes, then goes sick retires and picks up his 3 million pound pension. Gone are the days of people held responsible for their actions, Grenfell is another example fitting flammable panels and nobody even gets a reprimand but the government which is you and me have to pay out millions in compensation.
I can’t believe we are still having this discussion, who are these dumbwits who believe this is a great idea, put them in a broken down vehicle on a smart motorway and let’s see what happens, do you think they will rapidly alter their opinion? You bet ! .
All of them should be dismissed forthwith !
There should be a ground level Continuous Conveyor, permanently operating at 70 mph, along the length of every motorway, you simply drive down the slip road, drive into a space on the conveyor and switch off the engine and relax for an hour or so till you approach your alighting junction. Start your engine and drive off the conveyor onto the slip road and arrive safely at your destination.
Pure folley I here you say, well if those twits in Downing St hear about it they may just pay me £20 billion for the blueprints.
No hard shoulder is stupid and dangerous. At 13-32.30 =18-04-2023 I was aware I was in danger. The oil light came on although there was a full sump of quality oil in it. On the M1 where deaths nearby promted me to HAVE TO GO ON come waht may.
I noted a speed reduction from 50 down to 40. Our next base dash cam recorded a avery good repertoir exactly what happened in the following 6 minutes. The speed continued to decrease down to 20mph & thankfully the end of the rail was in sight & I pulled onto a grass verge to realative safety, 6 ft from my phisical position to the solid white inner lane marker. I breathed a sigh of releif.
I put 2 litres more oil in but the oil light told me it was no good driving our vehicle……
45 minutes later a National H traffic ‘officer’ who had no intention of offering a tow (normal) instructed me that we will move you to a safe palce, you will be charged.
I did not like her ‘in the first instance speech’ so I said my recovery ETA is 14-20
but she brushed that off and I now understand why she acted so.
A police officer with total greement with the Hyways organisation was as keen anyone to get me on their Burrows transporter. It did not matter what I said or what conition I was in after that trauma, they did not care. I am determined the truth will refund the money as well as the fact that the engine suffered because it was driven 5.5 minutes instead of seconds..
If I was in danger as said by them, why was the lane not closed for 45 minutes and why were their opertives and collegues and vehicles parked and standing about in the inner lane once it was closed after 45 miutes…..