By Richard Gormley
19th Jan 2022

Government Puts the Brakes on New Smart Motorways

It’s quite difficult to find anyone other than the Government who thinks Smart Motorways are a great idea. So it is with some relief that we hear the Transport Select Committee has decided to pause the rollout of “all lane running motorway schemes”.

For a great many road users this will be welcome, and for owners of classic and older vehicles it is particularly good news.

On 12th January 2022, in response to the Transport Select Committee’s view that the plans to extend the programme were premature, the Government announced it will now collect 5 years worth of economic and safety data before proceeding with new schemes. It all feels a bit “after the horse has bolted” but it’s welcome news nonetheless. For existing schemes, £390 million will be invested to provide additional refuge areas and improve Stopped Vehicle Detection. The change of heart follows campaigns by, among others, the RAC, AA and those who have lost loved ones in tragic accidents while using the current system.

Intended to increase capacity and reduce congestion there are currently around 375 miles of Smart motorway in the UK, including 235 miles with no hard shoulder. The programme essentially consists of three schemes:

All schemes use control centre-based traffic management facilitated by cameras and information displayed on overhead gantries.

While the Government continues to argue that Smart Motorways are safe, much of the public do not agree. Tragic, fatal incidents have occurred where broken down vehicles have been hit by traffic legitimately using the hard shoulder, leading to major concerns about safety. The Coroner in one incident cited the lack of a proper hard shoulder as carrying an “ongoing risk of future deaths”.

So, breakdown is the big concern and, for us as Classic Car owners, Smart motorways represent a problem. Improved technology means that modern cars rarely experience a breakdown. For older cars this is not the case. Most of us maintain our cars well and install sensible upgrades that mean we can use them on motorways with confidence.

There’s no escaping the essential engineering though, and motorway driving places greater strain on engines, transmission and running gear. Also in Post 1996 Euro NCAP compliant vehicles, occupants have greater crash protection should the worse happen. The age of our cars undoubtedly makes them more vulnerable.

For classic car owners, better running, less congested motorways are welcome as it leads to reduced use of A and B roads as alternative routes. It’s on these roads that we generally enjoy our classics most. At this stage however the price feels too high and the rush to introduce underdeveloped technology a little premature. Hopefully a significantly improved system will emerge that commands the confidence of all drivers.

Automotive Photographer and Writer – Trade Classics

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