The rollout of new “all-lane running” (ALR) smart motorways has been put on hold by the government for five years.
The decision to pause the rollout will allow more safety data to be collected from the ALRs already in operation. This will subsequently be assessed and allow the government to “make an informed decision on the next steps”. However, the schemes that are already under construction will still be completed.
The Department for Transport has said that the data currently available points to smart motorways being “comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates”. Despite this, a £900m investment has been promised to add further safety measures to the smart motorways that are currently in use and without a permanent hard shoulder.
These measures will see £390m being spent on adding over 150 emergency areas for drivers to pullover in. It means that by 2025, there will be a 50% increase in areas that can be stopped in.
The decision to pause the rollout is in accordance with the recommendations made in a report by the Transport Committee. This report had endorsed the decision to upgrade the safety on the ALRs already in operation instead of adding the hard shoulder back.
The committee had concluded that the hard shoulder is not always a safe area to stop in, and cutting the capacity of the motorway could also leave more drivers and passengers “at risk of death or serious injury”, should they be diverted down local roads that were not as safe.
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.”
Practical Caravan’s Reviews Editor, Peter Baber, recalls his experience of taking a caravan on a smart motorway: “I was towing in the early evening on a stretch of smart motorway near the northern end of the M1. I was in the inside lane like a good boy when I suddenly noticed that what I thought was a slow car ahead of me was actually a car that had broken down but had only made it halfway into the refuge area. (He hadn’t yet made put his hazards on.) I had to do an emergency stop, and then try and edge out, on a very busy motorway, in the rain and the dark.”
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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.”
Reacting to the news, RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said: “This watershed decision is an unqualified victory for drivers, many of whom have deeply held concerns over the safety of motorways where the hard shoulder is permanently removed.”
“Today’s decision to review a full five years of all the safety data and to look at all possible options with a fresh perspective should ensure our motorways can accommodate increased traffic volumes safely and – just as importantly – that the drivers using them feel safe doing so.”
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