MPs call for five year delay in all-lane smart motorwayson November 2, 2021 at 3:02 am

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They say more safety data is needed before the hard shoulder is made into a permanent traffic lane.

A smart motorway during a crash

Image source, Gov.uk

The introduction of “all-lane” smart motorways should be halted until their safety can be ensured, MPs have warned.

The schemes use the hard shoulder as a permanent live traffic lane to increase capacity – but critics say this has contributed to deaths on the roads.

In a report, the Commons’ Transport Select Committee said there was not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the plans.

The Department for Transport said it would consider the recommendations.

Smart motorways, which use technology to maintain the flow of traffic and give information on overhead displays, have existed in England since 2002.

The all-lane-running version, which involves opening the hard shoulder permanently to drivers, began in 2014.

There are about 375 miles in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder. An additional 300 miles are scheduled to be opened by 2025.

The committee’s report said: “The government and National Highways should pause the rollout of new all-lane running schemes until five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020 and the implementation of the safety improvements in the government’s action plan has been independently evaluated.”

It described the government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions as “premature”.

Demonstrators protesting against smart motorways marched with coffins to the Houses of Parliament on Monday. Relatives of those killed on smart motorways have called for the hard shoulder to be permanently reinstalled after a number of incidents in which broken down vehicles were hit from behind.

The committee said it was was “not convinced” that such a policy would boost safety.

Coffin protest

It concluded: “The evidence suggests that doing so could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury. Controlled smart motorways – which only use the hard shoulder as a live traffic lane during peak periods – have the “lowest casualty rates” of all roads across motorways and major A roads in England.

Responding to the report, Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said the government must listen to victims’ families.

“We know smart motorways in their current form, coupled with inadequate safety systems, are not fit for purpose and are putting lives at risk,” he said.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said it would respond to the report in due course.

“We’re pleased that the TSC (Transport Select Committee) recognises that reinstating the hard shoulder on all all-lane running motorways could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury and that we’re right to focus on upgrading their safety,” the DfT said.

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