Ever driven on a smart motorway and felt considerably less safe than when driving on a normal motorway with a hard shoulder? If your answer is yes then you are in the majority.
I’ve always considered the words smart motorway to be an oxymoron because a motorway without a hard shoulder and very short, intermittent refuge bays is obviously less safe than a traditional motorway which by definition has to be now known as an unsmart motorway. How crazy is that?
Let me illustrate my point with a story.
My wife Cholpon recently drove to Essex with her eleven-year-old daughter, Erica, to collect my mum, Joan, and drive back to Milton Keynes. It’s a round trip of about 160 miles. So there was a mixture of smart and unsmart motorways.
Cholpon was almost home, between Luton and Toddington, when she suddenly had a bad puncture so she had to stop. Needless to say, there was no hard shoulder! Fortunately, she was able to park in one of those small refuge bays. She had to get Erica and my mum, an 87-year-old Dementia sufferer, out of the car because she considered it a dangerous place to be parked.
She managed to re-start the car and drive to the Toddington Services turn off but had to park in the road because she couldn’t quite make it to the services. She managed to get a breakdown recovery person to come to the car, change the tyre and drive home. They arrived home two hours late at about 9:00pm.
It was a very scary experience for Cholpon and also a very dangerous one which is why I decided to write a blog about her experience.
I’ve conducted some research which I find quite interesting. It started with this article from the RAC in May 2022 which unveiled some interesting statistics about motorways including smart motorways.
The Smart Motorway Stocktake – Second Year Progress Report published by National Highways in May last year, between 2016 and 2020 there were 0.06 serious injuries or deaths per billion miles from journeys on controlled smart motorways.
On traditional motorways, the figure was higher at 0.09. However, they were twice as much – 0.19 – on ALR (All Lane Running) smart motorways.
In respect of less severe incidents that were recorded on motorways across the UK, the rate on controlled motorways was 0.2; 0.18 on traditional motorways; and on ALR motorways, that figure was 0.33.
The trouble with these statistics is that I am sceptical about them. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
A motorway without a hard shoulder is more dangerous than one with one.
Interestingly the government has decided to not construct any more new smart motorways. If the truth is that such motorways are more dangerous, then that has to be the reason why the government has decided to stop creating any more new ones otherwise why would they ban new ones?
You see, if your car has to stop on a motorway lane it is inevitably more risky than stopping on a hard shoulder because the risk of a collision by another car is far greater, especially at night on increasingly dimly lit motorways and in poor weather conditions. It’s all very well putting your hazard warning lights on but the speed of cars on motorways is so fast, will other drivers notice your hazard warning lights quickly enough? Also if you have had to stop in the outside lane how on earth do you cross the motorway on foot to a safer spot by the side of the road?
Even if you manage to park in a refuge space, how are you expected to build up enough acceleration to get into the inside lane and avoid an oncoming car ramming into the back of your car?
The whole concept of smart motorways is far from smart. It’s ill-thought-out. The madness of it is that the government is creating more motorway lanes to accommodate more traffic at a time when increasingly less people are using their cars as a mode of transportation for work because more people are now working from home. What’s more, it is widely predicted that in the future most people won’t own cars because it will be cheaper to hire driverless taxis which will lead to less busy motorways. What with the advent of EVTOLS (flying cars) in the future as well, I envisage a world in which the traffic jams will be in the skies not on the roads. So when motorways become very empty in the future I, for one, will be driving on them and not bothering with flying an EVTOL. Motorway driving has to be safer than flying your own vehicle surely, especially when future motorways become empty?
One can but hope that the government will not only stop creating more smart motorways but actually convert existing smart motorways back to traditional motorways by restoring the hard shoulder on all motorways. You know it makes sense.*
* This blog is based on my own observations and opinions.