“Motorways without hard shoulders are insane”

Mike Rutherford is pleased to hear that future smart motorways are being axed, but now wants to see existing ones get their hard shoulders back

Opinion - smart motorways

Shock, horror! The most important bloke in the corridors of power has finally learned of a huge, previously ignored group of people called motorists. And he’s promising to do something for us.

Rishi Sunak aims to improve the safety of 50 million car drivers and passengers by providing confirmation that he’s axing his Government’s plans for future ‘smart’ motorways.

Too little too late from the Prime Minister? Maybe. But at least he’s partly addressing the inappropriately named ‘smart’ motorway problem, which we’ve suffered for about 17 years.

Shame on the countless, clueless, couldn’t-give-a-toss PMs and other ministers who weakly permitted such schemes to thrive under their watch. Good on Sunak for promising to build no more. But he must also ensure that existing ‘smart’ motorways soon get (or get back) the hard shoulders they need. The hefty motoring taxes we’ve already coughed up will comfortably pay for them.  

Motorways without hard shoulders are insane. No real-world car user in his or her right mind asked for them. But misguided civil servants, agencies, consultants and the like reckoned they were a great idea. Government ministers nodded agreement, and were too stubborn or stupid to admit their mistakes.

You from inside your cars, vans and trucks, and me from radio and TV news studios, issued clear warnings that we needed our hard shoulders back. Trouble is, few if any ruling politicians listened to the gratis advice we gave them.

If Mr Sunak really is a listener, having just killed off future smart motorways, he must hear and act upon the following: the masses aren’t asking for a heinously expensive-to-build and prohibitively expensive-to-use HS2 railroad. So his Government must at once scrap this £100,000million-plus (£100 billion) south-to-north(ish) high-speed line and replace it with a less brutal, more cost-effective, slow to medium-speed version. Simple!

Similarly, his Government has to stop spending our motoring taxes on driverless car tech and infrastructure we don’t want because we’re quite happy driving ourselves, ta very much. Instead, all Government needs to do is lend a steadier hand in creating the proper EV-charging network that’s imperative prior to the proposed 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. Oh, and while you’re at it, Rishi, accept and deal with the fact that a stay of execution until at least 2035 is more realistic. You surely know this. 

Also known to him are the extensive powers his national Government has to prevent the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, from charging drivers in leafy counties such as Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Kent, the London ULEZ fee/fine of £12.50 per day. Rishi, you’re the UK’s biggest and most powerful political boss. If you can’t or won’t stop the mayor’s barely legal plan/scam to fleece millions of motorists in the capital and surrounding counties of up to £4,000 a year, democracy, justice and affordable motoring are all dead in the water. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not. Over to you, Mr Sunak.

Click here for everything you need to know about the UK's smart motorways...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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