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Call for evidence

The roll-out and safety of smart motorways

The roll-out and safety of smart motorways

Smart motorways have existed in some form in England since 2002. They were introduced as a technology-driven approach to deal with congestion through increasing capacity on motorways and controlling the flow and speed of traffic. Features of smart motorways include driver information displays provided on over-head gantries and technological safety features that can detect slow moving and stationary traffic.

Since 2014 the most common type of smart motorway has been All Lane Running (ALR), where former hard shoulders are permanently converted into running lanes and emergency refuge areas are available for motorists to stop in if there is an emergency (on smart motorways built since 2020 these are spaced at a maximum distance of 1 mile apart).

Highways England oversees the management of smart motorways which, in 2018, covered around 7% of the Strategic Road Network but carried 16% of its annual traffic

There have been concerns about the safety of ALR since its inception, as reflected in numerous public opinion surveys. In 2016, the Transport Committee concluded that it did not support the nationwide rollout of ALR on the basis that the safety risks associated with it had not been fully addressed. These concerns have been emphasised over the past 18 months with a number of fatalities on smart motorways and criticisms about their safety by coroners investigating those deaths. There is also a perception that motorists lack confidence driving on smart motorways.

In March 2020, the Department for Transport published an in-depth evidence stocktake of smart motorway safety. This concluded that “in most ways, smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways”, although it recognised that the risk of breaking down in a live lane is significantly increased. The Department set out an 18-point action plan to enhance the  safety of smart motorways, including rolling out stopped vehicle detection systems to all stretches of smart motorway by 2023 (since brought forward to 2022), converting all sections of dynamic hard shoulder smart motorway to ALR by 2025 and a £5 million publicity campaign to increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways.

Our call for evidence

We would welcome written evidence on the safety of smart motorways and public confidence in their use as well as their impact upon congestion. We are particularly interested in views on:

• the benefits of smart motorways, for instance to reduce congestion on busy sections of motorway, and how necessary they are;

• the safety of smart motorways, the adequacy of safety measures in place and how safety could be improved;

• whether All Lane Running is the most suitable type of smart motorway to roll out or if there are better alternatives;

• public confidence in using smart motorways and how this could be improved; • the impact of smart motorways on the usage and safety of other roads in the strategic road network;

• the effectiveness of Highways England’s delivery of the smart motorways programme, the impact of construction works, and the costs of implementation.

You do not need to cover all the above issues in your submission.

The deadline for submission is Friday 9 April.

Submissions should be a maximum of 3000 words.

This call for written evidence has now closed.

Go back to The roll-out and safety of smart motorways Inquiry