I’m really not surprised that there are now some calls to do a safety review of the “Smart Motorways” concept. It’s a particular source of interest as I travel on the M1 on a regular basis, and that’s one of the roads that will be looked at.
The concept of Smart Motorways ( flexible speed limits, the ability to make the hard shoulder into a running lane at peak times ) is a decent one, but it also missed out a couple of key factors.
The first – and most important – of those is that a huge number of drivers are fucking idiots, and have no idea how to handle the flexibility of the hard shoulder. I’ve lost count of the number of times I can see the hard shoulder being in use – with signs saying so every quarter-mile or so – and no-one using it. (Admittedly, I tend to then use it and make progress past idiots, but I’d rather see the lane being used correctly) And of course there’s also a significant number of drivers who won’t even use the inside lane, preferring to stay in the middle one, overtaking fuck-all for mile after mile, which also screws things up.
The second factor is that they didn’t seem to think about what happens when someone does have a breakdown or an accident, it necessitates at least a full lane closure (because there’s no hard shoulder to get in to) which screws the traffic up worse than it used to. Yes, there are refuge areas off the main running lanes, but there was a stat (which I can’t find in a story right now) that only something like 30-35% of breakdowns manage to get to the refuge areas rather than stopping in the live lane.
So yes, I’m not surprised that they’ll probably be getting reviewed – I do think they’re a good idea in general, but at the same time I don’t think they’re all that suitable for UK drivers, primarily because of some of their apparently unique behavioural traits.