Cars on a road photographed from the air

Smart motorway rollout paused for five years over safety concerns

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The rollout of new smart motorways has been paused by the Department for Transport (DfT) for five years until it can collect more safety data.

A ‘smart motorway’ is intended to alleviate road congestion by utilising live traffic-management measures, such as opening up the hard shoulder as a traffic lane.

Sections of the M1, M4-6, M25, M42 and M62 can operate as smart motorways but safety concerns have been raised recently following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being stranded in live lanes and subsequently struck from behind by a fast-moving vehicle.

In November, the Commons Transport Select Committee called for the rollout to be paused on account of safety concerns.

The DfT has announced that as well as pausing the rollout for five years, it will invest £900m to improve safety on existing all-lane running (ALR) motorways. After this point, the government says it will assess the data and make an informed decision on next steps.

This will include investing £390m to install more than 150 additional emergency areas so drivers have more places to stop if they get into difficulty, representing represent a 50 per cent increase in places to stop by 2025.

The decision to pause the rollout has been welcomed some, including Claire Mercer, who mounted a high-profile campaign to close down smart motorways after her husband was killed by a lorry on the M1.

Mercer said Wednesday’s Government announcement was a “sticking plaster” and a missed opportunity, adding: “They’d take lots more steps a lot more quickly if it was their loved ones that were being killed or maimed.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as transport secretary was to order a stock take 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.”

The DfT added that while it will be taking forward all the recommendations set out in the committee’s recommendations, it does not agree with the view that smart motorways were rolled out prematurely or unsafely.

While further data is being collected, 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 per cent completed and halting progress on them now would cause significant disruption for drivers, the DfT says.

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