The government has announced that the rollout of smart motorways will be paused until a full 5 years’ of safety data is available, as the Department for Transport invests £900m to improve safety on existing all-lane running motorways
Although available data shows smart motorways are comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates, the government will go further by ensuring current smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder are equipped with the technology and resources to make them as safe as possible.
£390m will be invested to install more than 150 additional emergency areas, so that drivers have more places to stop.
DfT has welcomed the Transport Committee’s report, which endorsed its focus on further upgrading the safety of existing ALR smart motorways rather than reinstating the hard shoulder.
This follows evidence that suggests that hard shoulders do not always provide a safe place to stop, and by reducing motorway capacity, they could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death or serious injury if they were to divert onto less safe local roads.
‘Making multimillion-pound improvements’
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety. I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.
“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 multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.
“I want to thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”
‘Safety is our absolute priority’
National Highways CEO, Nick Harris also commented: “We have listened to public concerns about smart motorways and we are fully committed to taking forward the additional measures the Transport Committee has recommended.
“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’s response to the Transport Committee builds on the 18-point action plan to improve smart motorway safety, announced in March 2020, including adding emergency areas and upgrading cameras to detect red X offences.
National Highways will continue work to complete schemes that are currently in construction, which will all open with technology in place to detect stopped vehicles.
These schemes are all more than 50% completed and halting progress on them now would cause significant disruption for drivers.
Design work will also continue on those schemes already being planned, so they are ready to be constructed depending on the outcome of the pause. However, no preparatory construction work will take place.
In line with the committee’s recommendations, National Highways will pause the conversion of dynamic hard shoulder motorways, where the hard shoulder is open at busy times, into all lane running motorways while it investigates alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers.
National Highways will also install technology to detect stopped vehicles on these sections.