Ministers to pause smart motorway roll out after MPs raise safety concerns

Ministers will immediately put a halt to the roll-out of all-lane running smart motorways after cross-party MPs raised serious safety concerns about the network.

In a major victory for safety campaigners, the Government has agreed to pause the further construction of smart motorways, which utilise the hard shoulder as an extra lane, in order to gather more data on how safe they are.

The Department for Transport has also pledged to ensure additional emergency refuge areas and improved technology to spot broken down vehicles on roads that are already under construction as part of a £390m retrofit programme.

Plans to convert seven, so-called dynamic hard shoulder motorways, which can convert the hard shoulder into an open lane at busy times, will also be paused, with the Government agreeing to look at alternative options to increase capacity on the motorways.

It comes after a report published in November by the Commons Transport Select Committee warned there was insufficient safety and economic data to justify pressing on with the expansion of the smart motorway network, and called for the policy to be paused.

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The committee concluded that the March 2020 decision to make all new motorways “all-lane running” was premature as the evidence base was insufficient.

Tory chair of the committee Huw Merriman said the Goverment’s decision was welcome, coming after previous concerns raised by MPs back in 2016 were “not addressed” by ministers.

“It was clear to our Committee that the public needs more reassurance that these motorways are safe to use. With conflicting and patchy evidence covering a limited number of years, more time was required to properly assess the impact on safety,” Mr Merriman said.

And he added: “It is important that this extra time is not just spent on evaluation – it must be focused on making Smart Motorways safer. The existing network of smart motorways must be improved to deliver more emergency refuge areas and better technology to close live lanes and reduce the risk for stranded motorists.”

The pledge of an additional £390m to provide “stopped vehicle detection” technology was a “welcome statement of intent”, he added.

Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.

There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder.

But safety campaigners have called for the roads policy to be scrapped, highlighting that 38 people have died on smart motorways between 2014 and 2019.

Ministers have also committed to ensure that all safety improvements, set out in the Government’s 2020 action plan will be independently evaluated by the Office for Rail and Road.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that while initial Government data showed smart motorways were “among the safest roads in the UK”, he added: “It’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

“Pausing schemes yet to start construction, and making multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes, will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.”

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