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Motorway Safety

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 7 September 2021

I have on several occasions announced to this House the importance of road safety to me and my Department. After hearing the public’s concerns about smart motorway safety, I commissioned an evidence stocktake and set out recommendations to raise the bar on safety. This was one of my first acts as Secretary of State.

The subsequent evidence stocktake was published in March 2020 and showed that ALR motorways are in most ways as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones. I was determined to make sure they were the safest roads in Britain, and to this end I announced a package of 18 measures, costing £500 million, which includes the faster rollout of a radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) across the ALR network, including an additional £5 million on national and targeted communications campaigns to ensure drivers receive the right advice to help them keep safe.

Other actions included an update to the highway code to include new information about driving on high-speed roads, which has been achieved this year, six months earlier than scheduled. We have also changed the law to enable automatic detection of vehicles driving in closed lanes, known as red “X” violations and National Highways is upgrading specialist cameras to help better identify violations so those drivers can be prosecuted.

A year on, I commissioned a progress report from National Highways to set out progress on those 18 actions, and to develop proposals about how several of them can be accelerated, going above and beyond what was originally committed to. The progress report was also an opportunity to review updated data since the 2020 stocktake. Crucially, the data contained in the National Highways progress report published in April 2021 continues to show that fatal casualties are less likely on all lane running motorways than on conventional ones.

The National Highways progress report drew its evidence from data and analysis of the 2019 STATS19 official statistics and produced by National Highways. I know that there has been considerable public and media interest in understanding motorway accident and fatality data, and in March 2021 I commissioned the Office of Rail and Road to independently review the data to provide further analytical assurance and ensure that the conclusions arrived at are robust.

The ORR’s report, “Quality Assurance of All Lane Running Motorway data”, is published today. I welcome the ORR’s review and their conclusion that they found no errors in the underlying calculations, and all the products and processes reviewed are in line with established practice. This was a thorough undertaking; the ORR drew on its expertise as the monitor of England’s strategic road network. The ORR analysed detailed information, interviewed relevant staff at both National Highways and the Department for Transport, and reviewed the evidence submitted to the Transport Select Committee inquiry, which commenced in February 2021. To provide additional expertise and challenge, the ORR took independent analytical advice from a specialist consultancy and involved the non-executive chair of its National Highways committee. This was done to ensure the conclusions and recommendations arrived at are as robust and comprehensive as possible. The report supports National Highway’s findings that smart motorways are the safest roads in the country in terms of fatalities.

The ORR’s report contains several recommendations for improvement that will strengthen our understanding of road safety. National Highways have agreed to all its recommendations and developed an action plan in response which is already under way.

My commission for assurance into smart motorway safety data by the ORR is another step towards improving road safety and instilling public confidence in the safety of our roads, which make a crucial contribution to economic and social development in this country.