No new stretches of smart motorway will be opened until the results of a government review on their safety come in, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.
Speaking to the Commons, Shapps said a £92m smart motorway section in Kent would not open to traffic while the dangers of the roads are being assessed as he added that the review – announced last October – had “uncovered a range of issues that I am not content simply to brush over.”
He said this put a halt on rolling out the network further until the “outcome of the stocktake” was in.
Shapps continued: “We must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue. But we have to do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of the victims as well as to organisations such as the AA and the RAC and to Members of this House.”
Other smart motorways being worked on include stretches of the M62, M23 and M6.
A BBC Panorama special aired last Monday (27 January 2020) revealed that 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the last five years and that on one section of the M25, outside London, the number of near misses had risen 20-fold since the hard shoulder was permanently removed in April 2014.
The programme also found that features on the UK’s original smart motorway schemes, such as the dynamic hard shoulder on the M42 and M4/5, had not been carried over to today’s All Lane Running smart motorways, which have the hard shoulders now permanently removed and SOS areas spaced up to twice the distance apart.
In response, safety and motoring organisations have been urging the Government to halt all new schemes until such concerns are resolved.
Welcoming Shapps’ comments today, Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “Spending scarce resource on roads that may have to be upgraded again in a few months would be a complete waste of time and put drivers’ lives at risk.
“The focus must now be on quickly establishing what can be done to make existing smart motorways much safer. That must start with a programme to deliver the right detection technology and more frequent refuges, as well as safe completion of current ‘live’ projects.”
He added: “Extended education campaigns can also start immediately as well as greater enforcement of Red X violations across the network.”