National Highways missing 10-minute target for responding to smart motorway breakdowns

Roads boss insists agency is making progress on getting to live lane breakdowns quickly a year after target was introduced

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England’s roads agency is missing its target to respond to breakdowns on smart motorways, almost a year after the objective was introduced.

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris told MPs on Wednesday that traffic officers missed the 10-minute target by an average of 18 seconds in June and that response times were now worse than they were in March 2022.

Despite failing to meet the target once since it was introduced in July 2021, Mr Harris insisted the agency was making “good progress” on getting to vehicles broken down in live lanes.

He told members of the Commons Transport Committee: “We’re now down to 10.3 minutes for June, so that’s a decrease from May which was 10.45.

“If I go back to March, we got down to 10.2, which is a great achievement… and it compares very favourably with the police whose response is around 15 minutes.

“I’m confident that we’re focused on achieving the 10 minutes this year.”

Mr Harris said the rise in response times since March was due to “operational reasons” as National Highways had to “move things around” in the South East.

Smart motorways, which use the hard shoulder as a live lane either all the time or at peak times, have been hugely controversial since first being introduced in 2014.

Proponents say they are a quicker and cheaper way to add much-needed capacity to the road network but concerns remain around driver safety following a number of fatal accidents involving vehicles stranded in live traffic lanes.

In January this year the Government halted the roll-out of all new all-lane running smart motorways amid ongoing arguments over their safety.

The Department for Transport said it would pause their introduction until five years’ worth of safety data was available, after the Transport Select Committee said that there was not enough safety or economic data to justify continuing the roll-out.

Schemes already under construction, however, are continuing.

The Government has said that all ALR roads will have stopped vehicle detection systems in operation by September 2022 as part of a package of measures designed to improve safety on the routes.

Reacting to the latest National Highways figures, transport minister Baroness Vere admitted it would be a “challenge” to convince the public to trust smart motorways.

She told the transport committee: “You are significantly less safe on a country B-road than you are on pretty much any other road and yet people somehow feel that they are more safe.

“That the research shows that people are most confident on our most dangerous roads is a challenge.”

A study by the RAC last September found that 84% of drivers thought safety was compromised by the removal of the hard shoulder and 62% want the hard shoulder to be reinstated and ALR motorways abandoned.