Their use has become controversial following fatal incidents (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire)
The rollout of smart motorways is being paused due to safety concerns, the government has announced – but critics say the move does not go far enough.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is halting the introduction of new all-lane-running smart motorways until it has collected five years of safety data for the roads which were introduced before 2020.
The decision follows a recommendation by the Commons Transport Select Committee, which warned there is not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the project.
All-lane-running smart motorways use the hard shoulder as a permanent live traffic lane.
But their use has become controversial following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind.
Relatives of people who have died on the roads have urged ministers to go further by reinstating the hard shoulder.
Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died in a smart motorway collision near Sheffield in 2019, says the government announcement is a missed opportunity.
Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, said: ‘We have had review after review after review into smart motorways and never once have they turned off the first lane while they investigate them.
The government is committing £900 million to improve smart motorways’ safety (Picture: PA)
‘Just turn off lane one and you’ve got your hard shoulder back.
‘You just need to throw one switch at eight control centres and you’ve got your hard shoulder back immediately.’
The campaigner added: ‘They’d take lots more steps a lot more quickly if it was their loved ones that were being killed or maimed.’
Carriageways that will now not be turned into all-lane-running motorways, pending the five-year safety data review, include the M3 J9-14, the M40/M42 interchange, the M62 J20-25, and the M25 J10-16.
But work will continue on stretches that are already in construction, as they are more than half completed, the Government said, noting that stopping progress on them now would cause disruption for motorists.
The DfT has said that extra emergency refuges will be added to existing smart motorways and those already being built, committing £900 million to upgrade them.
Grant Shapps has said it’s ‘crucial’ to make sure people feel safe on smart motorways (Picture: PA)
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘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.’
The government is also pausing the conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways and has pledged to ‘revisit the case’ for installing controlled smart motorways.
Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee, said the public needs ‘more reassurance’ that smart motorways are safe.
He said: ‘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 addition of £390 million is a welcome statement of intent.’
The move has been welcomed by both the AA motoring association and RAC.
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.
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