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‘Smart’ motorway rollout must stop until safety is assured, say MPs

‘Smart’ motorway rollout must stop until safety is assured, say MPs
‘Many motorists feel unsafe’, says scathing report by transport committee

Boris Johnson’s government has been urged to pause the rollout of so-called “smart” motorways until the safety of motorists can be assured.

A cross-party group of MPs has called for a halt on motorways which ditch hard shoulders and adopt new, digital traffic management methods.

Campaigners have long argued that the scrapping of hard shoulders has put drivers at greater risk of accidents – condemning what they call “death trap highways”.

In a scathing new report, MPs on the transport select committee said the government has failed to deliver on promises to bring in safety improvements to stretches of smart motorway.

The committee said it was time to stop any further rollout of smart motorways until five years of safety data is available and improvements can be independently evaluated.

The use of smart, all-lane running motorways – with the conversion of the hard shoulder into a “live” lane for traffic – were first introduced in 2014.

Since then, the stretch of all-lane-running motorways has expanded from 29 miles to 141 miles, prompting campaign groups such as RAC and Smart Motorways Kill to call for the reinstatement of hard shoulders.

Some 53 people are thought to have died on smart motorways – with at least four coroners citing the lack of hard shoulder as playing a significant part in the road deaths they were investigating.

The Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England promised safety improvements on these sections of road, but the MPs report concluded those steps do not fully address the risks associated with the removal of the hard shoulder.

The government’s decision last year that all new smart motorways will be all-lane-running motorways was “premature”, the report also stated.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “The minister for roads described England’s all-lane running smart motorways as ‘the most scrutinised 141 miles of road in the world’.

The MP added: “It is right we do [scrutinise] because lives have been lost and many motorists feel unsafe using them. More action is needed to demonstrate their worth.”

In the 2016, the government told the committee that new safety technology would be installed to allow “live” traffic lanes to be closed more quickly – but the report found it had not yet been introduced on all smart motorways.

The committee has called for emergency refuge areas to be retrofitted to existing smart motorways at a maximum of one mile apart, and for the Office of Rail and Road to be handed new powers to evaluate safety measures.

Mr Merriman said: “Only when these safety measures have been brought in, when enough time has been afforded to assess the safety of smart motorways over a longer period … should we move to roll out more miles of smart motorway.”

Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said the report confirmed the Labour Party’s longstanding position that ministers had been “wrong” to press ahead with smart motorways.

He added: “Reinstating the hard shoulder while full investigations are carried out need not be costly – the transport secretary could do so with a single phone call. The government must finally listen to what it is being told by countless victims’ families, or we face more tragedy on our roads.”

The Department for Transport was contacted for comment,