COMMENT: Smart Motorways

THE M1 near Rotherham has a 16-mile stretch which is called a Smart Motorway.

If you have driven along it you will be familiar with its gantries and the electronic signs that can vary the speed limit or display a red cross to prohibit entry into a lane.   

There are different types of smart motorway across the country – ‘smart’ because they are all about increasing the flow of traffic and reducing congestion, which they do.

In other respects they are anything but smart.

Some speed traffic by letting vehicles travel along the hard shoulder at peak times.

The one we have here is the type that has permanently turned the hard shoulder into a live lane.

If you break down, there is no hard shoulder to pull onto.

You have nowhere to go and are stuck in a live lane with vehicles coming up behind you.

There are emergency refuges which you can pull into – but only if you can get to one and they are over a mile apart.

I have repeatedly said I think they are dangerous, confusing and stressful.

They were a way of adding an extra lane on the cheap.

One Rotherham resident, Claire Mercer, was recently in the news because her husband was killed when he stopped in the lane, where the hard shoulder would have been, following a minor bump.

He wanted to exchange insurance details with another motorist, but they were both killed.

When vehicles come to a halt, this can be detected and the lane closed by switching on the red cross sign.

But this does not happen immediately, so if you have stopped in the inside lane you will have traffic coming towards you at speed.

The government has ordered a review of the smart motorways and the results will soon be announced.

It will compare collisions and fatalities on ordinary motorways and smart motorways.

It is quite possible that smart motorways will be ‘safer’ than ordinary motorways.

But this is the wrong comparison.

What we ought to be doing is looking at what happened when people were killed on the smart motorway and what would have happened if there had been a hard shoulder.

To put it another way, if you broke down on a motorway, would you prefer it to be one with a hard shoulder or not?

By Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire