Smart motorway roll out paused
Safety on smart motorways to be further ensured while roll out is halted
A decision to roll out new smart motorway schemes is to be paused.
The stoppers on these projects could be removed after five years’ worth of safety data is available for schemes introduced before 2020, as the Department for Transport (DfT) invests £900 million to improve safety on existing All Lane Running (ALR) motorways.
While their rollout is paused, the Government plans to ensure 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 £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.
A Transport Committee report concludes 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.
While the 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. It claims 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.
“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…” – RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes
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. 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.”
National Highways will also ramp up communications so drivers have better information about how to drive on smart motorways.
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, according to DfT. 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.
Also, in line with the Committee’s recommendations, National Highways will pause the conversion of Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways (where the hard shoulder is open at busy times) into All Lane Running motorways, while it investigates alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers. National Highways will also install technology to detect stopped vehicles on these sections.