Smart motorways rollout halted in face of transport committee report on drivers' safety fears

The Government’s rollout of the much-criticised smart motorway scheme has been halted.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 8:43 am

The Department for Transport says the construction of any more ‘All Lane Running’ routes has been suspended “until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available”.

It comes after a report by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee stated there was not enough safety or economic data to justify the project and follows action by campaigners including Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on the M1 near Meadowhall in 2019.

The report, which was published in November, described the Government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions – where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane – as ‘premature’. MPs subsequently called for the rollout to be halted.

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The rollout of smart motorways will be halted indefinitely until the Government can collect "five years of data" on safety for drivers.

Further, the Government claims it will commit £900m to “improving safety” on existing All Lane Running routes, including building extra emergency areas.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.

“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, 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.”

Smart motorways, like the stretch of the M1 in South Yorkshire, convert hard shoulders into extra lanes and feature emergency refuge areas and electronic signs which can be activated in the case of a crash or breakdown.

Concerns about the safety of smart motorways have been raised after dozens of fatal incidents where motorists have collided into the back of broken down vehicles.In November, a protest saw 38 coffins carried across London to represent lives lost on smart motorways since they were introduced.

And earlier this week, a video emerged showing drivers taking evasive action on the M1 near Sheffield to avoid a stranded van close to Meadowhall. Overheard boards that should have warned a vehicle was broken down were still telling road users to drive at 60mph and gave no indication of the danger.

In November, the select committee report noted that controlled smart motorways have the ‘lowest casualty rates’ of all roads across motorways and major A roads in England.

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

National Highways CEO Nick Harris said: "While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.

“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”

The Government statement announcing pause to the rollout does not specify when the “five years of data gathering” will end or if it will include recent years.

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