Smart motorways trade ‘driver safety for lower costs’, police and crime commissioner says

We’re in a world of scarce resources. Thus we’re always trading safety against costs.

Failing to grasp that is failing to be adult.

30 thoughts on “Yes. And?”

  1. Bloke in China (Germany province)

    We trade safety against costs?????? What planet have you been visiting for the last 9-10 months?

  2. We should not be designing road systems that have in built death traps. Whoever came up with the idea (and signed off on it) should be forced to drive on the things in a clapped out banger for a year and see how they like it. Its a typical middle class let them eat cake attitude ‘My car has never broken down on a motorway, I get it regularly serviced, why don’t you?’

  3. Smart motorways are truly dangerous in the way the number of driving lanes continually changes when traffic is heavy. It’s only a matter of time before we get a really big one. The terms of the trade-off seem bizarrely different from the calculations used for Covid-19

  4. An interesting article on the subject

    https://cliscep.com/2020/06/06/how-governments-think-about-public-safety/

    In the case of the Smart Motorways upgrades, two adjustments to the infrastructure were entailed. The first was expected to reduce the accident rate. The second (which is contingent upon the first adjustment being made) was expected to increase the accident rate but not by so much that it would overturn the benefits from the first.

    The government had the option of only introducing the first adjustment, thereby maximising road safety. They chose not to

    In the case of the Smart Motorways upgrades, two adjustments to the infrastructure were entailed. The first was expected to reduce the accident rate. The second (which is contingent upon the first adjustment being made) was expected to increase the accident rate but not by so much that it would overturn the benefits from the first.

    The government had the option of only introducing the first adjustment, thereby maximising road safety. They chose not to take this option, arguing that they have no legal obligation to make the roads safer than they already are but only to ensure that through their actions they do not make them less safe.

  5. From the cliscep article…

    “And the moral of the story is that governments are quite willing to cause death if it can be hidden within a statistic that accompanies a presupposed greater good.”

  6. They don’t save much money either: all those cameras and control systems, plus the ridiculous slowdowns ordered for no apparent reasons made them uneconomic 🙁

  7. Faced with growing opposition from coroners and now Police Commissioners, the DoT goes full Worstall:

    Now the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, has joined in the clamour condemning the safety of Smart Motorways:

    “The relevant test for us is whether someone who breaks down on this stretch of the motorway, where there is no hard shoulder, would have had a better chance of escaping death or injury had there still been a hard shoulder – and the coroner’s verdict makes it clear that the answer to that question is – Yes.”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-55782301

    In response to Dr Billings’ open letter, the Department for Transport said:

    “The stocktake [of smart motorways] showed that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones.”

  8. “all those cameras and control systems” – I’ve had a glance at the figures: even with the higher opex it still works out far cheaper than a real widening scheme.

  9. I’m not sure I’ve ever understood what the big deal is with smart motorways. We have thousands of miles of dual carriageway A roads on which you can happily drive at 70 mph that have never had a hard shoulder and nobody complains about that being unsafe. The hard shoulder on a smart motorway is only active when the limit is below 70.

    I can see a small argument that it might be more dangerous to stop on the hard shoulder when you are allowed because someone not ready the signs is still driving on it, but when it is an active lane I can’t see a practical difference from a dual carriageway.

  10. I prefer passive safety systems (e.g. hard shoulders) to active ones (e.g. bags of computerised thingummies that won’t actually work when you need them). Presumably the original safety calculus assumed that the said computery stuff would actually be installed and would then work reliably. Ha, ha, ha.

  11. Andrew, doesn’t the hard evidence have any persuasive effect? A reduced chance of some unspecified events versus a 90%+ certainty of death? I am sure the DOT statisticians rigged the results in the favour of smart schemes. One element is the volume of traffic travelling on a 3 lane road that suddenly becomes a 4 lane road with someone trapped on what used to be the hard shoulder

  12. All-Purpose dual carriageways tend to have verges or pavements at the side that can be veered off onto in an emergency. A motorway is required to have a crash barrier along the side of the carriageway, so if you’re in the hard shoulder using it as a running lane there’s nowhere to go.

  13. We trade safety against costs?????? What planet have you been visiting for the last 9-10 months?

    Indeed.
    Mr Worstall, show your work.

  14. A simple solution.

    As the point is to keep traffic moving when it gets very congested, simply ensure that the hard lane only ever becomes an active lane when the gantry speed limits are down to 40mph (never above, as a matter of principle). That reduces any mortality / accident risk substantially. Any speed above that, well, it’s clearly moving more freely, so less need for it. Yes, sure, that will sometimes slow traffic down from 60 to 50 (or whatever) more readily. But it still leaves the lane available when it’s most needed, which is in very heavy traffic.

  15. Don’t get me wrong – I’m always more comfortable if there is a hard shoulder. My point was that we happily drive where there isn’t a hard shoulder so although it intrinsicly feels wrong to remove a hard shoulder that was already there, there is never the same clamour to introduce a hard shoulder that isn’t already there in similar circumstances. I’m thinking in particular of roads such as the M42 where it becomes the A42. The nature of the road isn’t subtantially different. All that really changes is that the hard shoulder disappears. I can’t say I’ve ever driven along it feeling that I could comfortably remove my car from the road if it broke down.

    Perhaps I ought to be asking why such roads don’t have a hard shoulder.

    With regards to Diogenes’s point about being trapped on a hard shoulder when it suddenly becomes an active lane, the smart motorways are supposed to have cameras and staff monitoring for this before changing the status of the lane. Granted – they’ll probably cock it up but it shouldn’t happen.

    I’d be interested to see any statistics on the relative dangers of breaking down on a dual carriageway versus a smart motorway. The only studies I could find were smart motorway vs motorway with hard shoulder which came to the obvious conclusion.

  16. We trade safety against costs?????? What planet have you been visiting for the last 9-10 months?

    Indeed.
    Mr Worstall, show your work.

    So you two would argue that TPTB have not been failing to be adult over COVID?

  17. Tomj, a tricky sentence to parse but you think that the English approach to Covid-19 has demonstrated signs of adult thinking? Adult as in changing opinion every few days for no apparent reason? Adult as in listening to people who have never made an accurate prediction? The kind of adults we do not want to be? The people who led the world in August 1914 were all adults. So was Arthur Scargill

  18. Jim: “drive on the things in a clapped out banger for a year”

    Which, last time I checked, is exactly what you shouldn’t do.. Or do the Brits not have yearly vehicle certification?

    Here in the evil foreign nation of the Netherlands we’ve had “smart roads” and rush hour lanes for over a decade, and the massive death toll from them has failed to appear.
    If anything, most accidents that do happen are almost invariably attributable to mundane things like speeding where you simply can’t, not keeping your distance/bumpersticking, and trying to cross 3 lanes in one go to get your exit.
    Oh, and Working the Fondleslab While Driving, which has its own fine/penalty scheme nowadays.. Wonder why…

  19. Grikath, having driven in the Netherlands, I am amazed. Everyone seems to drive 1 metre away from the car in front and changes lane without regard to other drivers. How does it work? What is the secret?

  20. Constant Vigilance… 😛 Which is why Fondleslabbing is so harshly punished.

    It does help that getting a dutch drivers’ license is actually quite hard. Very easy to flunk, as opposed to our neighbouring countries.
    Doesn’t stop the morons, but your average cloggie can actually Drive a Car.

  21. The other version is: We’ve studied the Parisiens, and improved on it so there’s less dents and stuff… 😛

  22. I’ve noticed that Dutch drivers are quite well behaved in their idiosyncratic fashion. I suppose you assume that everyone drives the way you do

  23. @PF

    “As the point is to keep traffic moving when it gets very congested, simply ensure that the hard lane only ever becomes an active lane when the gantry speed limits are down to 40mph (never above, as a matter of principle). That reduces any mortality / accident risk substantially. Any speed above that, well, it’s clearly moving more freely, so less need for it. Yes, sure, that will sometimes slow traffic down from 60 to 50 (or whatever) more readily. But it still leaves the lane available when it’s most needed, which is in very heavy traffic.”

    On the face of it that actually sounds very sensible! Is there an obvious flaw I’m not seeing?

    Because it means that you’re not making any use of that extra lane except in very limited circumstances, perhaps it’s deemed to deliver insufficient benefit. But I don’t know to what extent the benefit of having the extra lane running is attributed to greater capacity for free flowing traffic versus reducing congestion when things are bad. As an M25 user, for example, it’s the clogged up periods which affect me disproportionately more than whether I can shave two minutes off a journey when the traffic is good. So from my perspective that would be the most valuable time for an extra lane to be in service…

    Having said that, a significant proportion of jams are due to accidents which result in the loss of the lane anyway. I do wonder if anyone has cranked out some numbers on this since I don’t think the suggestion is a barmy one, even if it puts the time-safety trade-off in a different place to where the scheme designers put it. It’s often the case that clever suggestions by non-specialists have gaping flaws experts spot immediately but I would at least hope experts considered this sort of mode of operation as an alternative.

  24. Bloke in North Dorset

    Grikath,

    “ It does help that getting a dutch drivers’ license is actually quite hard. Very easy to flunk, as opposed to our neighbouring countries.”

    When I used to drive through that region in the ‘80s there was a belief amongst squaddies the Belgium didn’t introduce a test until the ‘60s and that most of them hadn’t needed to pass one. They drove like it too, a frightening section of the drive, especially when you’re used to the German and Dutch disciplined driving.

  25. BiND
    A colleague once described Belgians’ driving as being “all the recklessness of the Italians with none of the skill.”
    Having spent a few hair raising trips in Brussels, I can concur.
    Lack of hard shoulders is acutely felt on the A20 out of Dover: no where to pull over due to steep embankments and lots of lorries. Dont break down once you are past the tunnel and on the M20.

  26. BiND,

    The belgian bit is true. Up until the turn of the millennium a belgian drivers’ test amounted to being self-taught + a round around the local church with an examiner. The transliterated phrase is that belgians got their license “along with a pack of butter (at the supermarket)”.
    This has changed, but all the drivers from before the change are still around.

    Diogenes,

    I don’t have a drivers’ license. Don’t need one where I live. Between my trusty bicycle and public transport I can comfortly get everywhere I need to be within 50 miles, 200 miles with some planning.
    Doesn’t mean I’m not on the road a lot. I’m simply a “professional” shotgun driver who does the fondleslabbing and stuff on the road, which includes keeping an eye out for the right side blind spot for the driver.

    And honestly.. At my meagre 50+ years of age I can’t see the merit in investing roughly €3000-5000 for the license, especially when the costs of owning and parking a car in a city centre ( where my house lives) easily amounts to another €1500/year, outside the usual MOT/road tax/insurance stuff. For something I’d use every other weekend at best….

  27. And before people start.. No drivers’ license does not equate to “does not know how to drive”.

    I can and have driven/operated almost everything with 2,3,4,6,8 wheels, and tracks. And am actually still licensed to operate a fair amount of them. I simply don’t have the rag that says I can pilot a tin can on a public road… 😉

  28. Buggeroff with yr superdriving Dutchie crap. I was no more impressed by them on my several visits than UK drivers. Most of them are bike wankers anyway.

    Smart motorway shite is part of the long term plan to have us plebs out of cars altogether.

    The program should be stopped and all eco-freak cash sources available –Greenpeace/FOTE/Attenborough’s pensions etc be confiscated to pay for hard shoulder to be put on all smart motos so far built.

    SCS scum behind it all should lose their jobs and pensions. They deserve much worse

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