Posted: Wed 12th Jan 2022

Smart motorway rollout to be ‘paused’ amid safety concerns after inquiry

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jan 12th, 2022


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The rollout of new “all-lane running” smart motorways is to be ‘paused’ while their safety is assessed, the UK government has said.

Any new schemes to convert existing stretches of motorway to all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways will be put on hold until five years’ worth of safety data is available.

After this point, the UK government will assess the data and make an informed decision on next steps.

The move is in line with the Transport Committee’s most recent recommendations

A £900m package of additional safety measures on existing smart motorways has been announced.

This will include £390 million to install more than 150 additional emergency areas so drivers have more places to stop if they get into difficulty. This will represent around a 50% increase in places to stop by 2025, giving drivers added reassurance.

The Transport Committee’s report, focuses on further upgrading the safety of existing ALR smart motorways rather than reinstating the hard shoulder.

Evidence presented to the committee suggested 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.”

UK government 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.

The government’s response to the Transport Committee builds on the significant progress already made against DfT’s 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.

The measures in the Stocktake and Transport Committee response represent over £900 million of improvements in total, including £390 million of new money for extra emergency areas, with the remainder of the funding delivering other measures, such as stopped vehicle detection and concrete central reservation barriers.

National Highways will also ramp up communications so drivers have better information about how to drive on smart motorways.

National Highways CEO Nick Harris said:

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.

“While DfT 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.” A UK government spokesperson said.

“All ALR smart motorway schemes are, and will continue to be, subject to high standards of design, risk assessment and construction, followed by detailed monitoring and evaluation once opened to traffic.” the spokesperson added.

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% 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. No preparatory construction work will take place.

Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose 8-year-old son Dev, died in a motorway crash on the M6 in 2018, said:

Conventional and smart motorways both have their risks and benefits. I welcome this pause in the rollout of smart motorways, which will give us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network.

I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900 million to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died. However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for autonomous emergency braking and further support for ongoing driver education.

The RAC said the move to pause the rollout of ALR motorways is a “watershed decision” and an “unqualified victory for drivers, many of whom have deeply held concerns over the safety of motorways where the hard shoulder is permanently removed.”

Head of roads policy at The RAC Nicholas Lyes said:

Rather than ploughing on regardless in the face of mounting public opposition, we’re pleased the Government has finally hit the pause button and given itself time to fully consider the safety of these schemes, and the way our motorways are adapted to increase capacity from now on.

“We have long argued that dynamic hard shoulder and controlled motorway schemes – both of which feature a hard shoulder in some form – should be considered given their good safety record and it’s important these options are on the table. A further commitment to install an additional 150 refuge areas on existing schemes to bring them all up to the same standard is positive news and should go some way towards reassuring drivers worried about reaching one in an emergency.

“The safety of our motorway network is paramount and no policy decisions should ever risk making our fastest roads less safe. 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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