Not so smart?

Are smart motorways doing more harm than good?

West Yorkshire's 4 Lane Smart Motorway

If you’ve taken our hire cars or vans on virtually any major motorway recently, you’ll have either come across a smart motorway, or driven through extensive roadworks caused by smart upgrades.

There’s already 100 miles of smart motorway operational in the UK. By 2025 that figure will have more than trebled. But questions are being asked about whether smart, in its current form, is the right option.

The UK’s smart motorways operate an ALR (all lanes running) system, with the hard shoulder used as a regular lane unless a breakdown occurs, in which case the lane is closed via signage on overhead gantries.

A dangerous distraction?

But as the Daily Express has reported, MP Tracey Crouch has called for the “government to pause and reflect on whether we’re getting this right”.

Her comments come following 16 serious crashes on ALR motorways. Adding to the debate, motoring lawyer Nick Freeman told the Manchester Evening News that, “Smart motorways are a dangerous distraction with constant sign changes, a paucity of accurate information, inexplicable speed restrictions on empty stretches of road, and the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane at times of congestion – a ridiculously dangerous idea, which increases the vulnerability of drivers who breakdown before they can reach a refuge area.”

The criticisms certainly seem to be something that Highways England recognises. The current distance between refuge areas is set to be reduced from 1.5 miles to 1 mile for all new ALR motorways from 2020.

Good for drivers

In general, however, the agency’s position is that, for our rental vans and every other road user, smart motorways remain safe: “Smart motorways are good for drivers; they add extra lanes, improve people’s journeys and are as safe as other motorways.”

If you’re taking our hire cars or vans onto a smart motorway soon, the sensible advice would seem to be to ensure you are extra vigilant as to what’s ahead of you, and what the gantries are saying.

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