Causes of smart motorway crashes could be investigated in same way as air or rail disasters

·3-min read
Smart motorway - Dawson Images/Alamy Stock Photo
Smart motorway - Dawson Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Smart motorway crashes could be investigated by a new road safety unit as polling showed that a majority of drivers want them scrapped.

The Government’s new Road Safety Investigation Branch, bringing the roads in line with the aviation and rail sectors, will look into the wider themes that cause collisions and specific incidents of concern.

The news was welcomed by the RAC, which will be involved in the scheme. Urging the quango to be “selective”, it said it should focus on such issues as how the technology is applied.

However, the Department for Transport signalled that the roads will not be the focus of the new branch and incidents involving the technology may not form part of its work.

Hard shoulders across England have been turned into live lanes as part of the smart motorway rollout since 2014.

However, some 62 per cent of British drivers believe that hard shoulders should be reintroduced, according to a recent RAC poll of more than 2,500 people.

The introduction of all-lane-running routes was paused in January by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, as the Government launched a review into their safety.

Eight people died on motorways without a hard shoulder in 2020, figures released last month showed, with fatal incidents occurring on the roads when vehicles that had stopped in traffic were hit from behind.

The Commons transport select committee said more data is needed to prove that smart motorways are safer than traditional roads before any more are built, and urged ministers to build more emergency refuge areas for existing smart motorways.

Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, said that the branch would have to be “selective in looking into incidents that shed light on recurring issues, such as the concerns about collisions on motorways where the hard shoulder has been turned into a running lane”.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “The job of investigators will be to look for background themes and patterns that link a number of collisions and then recommend actions that could prevent them [from] repeating.

“This is about the whole road transport system. The new branch could decide to look at anything, from the impact of pressure on commercial drivers to meet deadlines to the way we use smart motorways and all things in between.”

The new organisation will not seek to make judgments about blame or liability for collisions, meaning that its work is to run alongside and separately from police investigations.

It will instead make recommendations to the Government and police forces, shaping their policies with the intention to “provide better, greener and safer journeys” for motorists.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the roads minister, said: “The UK may have some of the safest roads in the world, but tragedies still happen and any injury or death on our road network is one too many.

“That’s why we’re establishing the Road Safety Investigation Branch, so we can boost safety for road users even further and also bring safety measures in line with other modes of transport and the future of travel.”

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