The rollout of new smart motorway schemes will be paused until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available, as the Department for Transport invests £900million to improve safety on existing All Lane Running (ALR) motorways.
In line with the Transport Committee’s most recent recommendations, the rollout of new ALR smart motorways will be paused until a full five years’ worth of safety data becomes available for schemes introduced before 2020. After this point, the Government will assess the data and make an informed decision on next steps.
Although available data shows smart motorways are comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates, while their rollout is paused, the Government will go further by ensuring current smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder are equipped with best-in-class technology and resources to make them as safe as possible.
This will include investing £390million 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 Department for Transport (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. As concluded by the Committee, evidence suggests 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.
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 multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps. I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”
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.”
Rebecca Needham, Road Safety Officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “We welcome the publication of the Department for Transport's response to the House of Commons Transport Committee report and the decision to pause the roll-out of smart motorways. During the evidence gathering stage of the report, RoSPA provided an expert witness and made a number of recommendations to improve the safety of smart motorways.
“RoSPA has been calling for an increase in the number of emergency refuge areas on ‘all lane running’ (ALR) smart motorways and we are pleased to see that the Department for Transport has committed to a retrofit a further 150 emergency refuge areas to existing schemes.
“It is vitally important that a programme to retrofit emergency refuges on ALR motorways is put in place, because between 2015 and 2019, 39 people died on UK smart motorways, according to figures from National Highways.
“Currently on ALR motorways, the emergency refuges are spaced at up to 1.6 miles apart. Today's report adopts RoSPA’s recommendation to reduce the distance between safe stopping places on ALR motorways to a maximum of 1,500 metres and down to 1,000 metres (0.75 miles) where physically possible.
“RoSPA also embraces the recognition in the report that further effort is required to better inform motorists about how to safely navigate smart motorways and we look forward to supporting this.”