The United Kingdom could play host to the world’s next Autobahn-style roadways. Conservative prime minister candidate Liz Truss has suggested she’s “prepared to look at” getting rid of speed limits, Autocar reports — but she’d almost certainly get rid of smart motorways.
Smart motorways are stretches of road where technology is used to regulate traffic flow with the hope of easing congestion. BBC News outlines three different kinds of smart motorway:
- Controlled, which have a permanent hard shoulder, but use technology such as variable speed limits to adjust traffic flows
- Dynamic, where the hard shoulder can be opened up at peak times and used as an extra lane; when this happens, the speed limit is reduced to 60mph
- All-lane running, where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed to provide an extra lane; emergency refuge areas are provided at regular intervals for cars that get into trouble
If you’ve ever seen a stretch of road that features digital LED signs showing which lanes are open and which are closed, that’s roughly what a dynamic-style smart motorway looks like. And I don’t think I need to explain speed limits; we’re all well aware of those.
Last year, smart motorways came under scrutiny by the UK Parliament, which argued that they’re fundamentally unsafe and that their rollout should be paused until the government can find a way to implement them safely.
Getting rid of speed limits, though, introduces a whole other can of worms — though it does fit right in with Truss’ previous suggestions that nationwide speed limits be boosted to 81 miles per hour (130 km/h).
Higher speed limits have been a little confusing when it comes to properly evaluating safety. Germany’s highway system experiences fewer deaths per billion miles traveled than American highways, but that’s largely because Germany prioritizes road safety, makes it more challenging to get a driver’s license, and more thoroughly inspects vehicles when compared to other countries.
Not enforcing similar measures accompanying Truss’ elimination or raising of speed limits could be deadly. One Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that, for every five mile per hour increase in a highway’s speed limit, roadway fatalities rose 8.5 percent. Those numbers come from American roads, though, so we can expect some differences in the UK. But the point still stands — without robust regulations, unrestricted roadways aren’t the greatest idea.