Last month, the Government paused the rollout of smart motorways for 5 years until there is enough safety data available. It said that their safety needs to be comprehensively assessed before any new smart motorways are built.
Smart motorways, sometimes called ‘all-lane running’ (ALR) motorways, use the hard shoulder as an additional lane to increase traffic capacity and reduce congestion.
If a car breaks down, drivers should aim for emergency refuge areas, but the safety of this approach has been heavily criticised. Opponents say they leave cars stranded in fast-moving traffic, sometimes leading to unnecessary fatalities.
Although the rollout has been paused, the Government won’t be reinstating hard shoulders on current stretches of ALR motorways.
This decision has angered some campaigners, including Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on the M1 in June 2019.
Claire has been campaigning against the rollout since his death and calls the Government’s announcement a “sticking plaster”. Her campaign group, Smart Motorways Kill, is calling for an immediate shutdown of the inside lanes on all existing stretches.
The development of smart motorways
According to National Highways, there are around 400 miles of smart motorway in action. This announcement means that another 100 miles of smart motorways currently in construction will still be completed, and a further 57 miles will be paused for now.
The Department for Transport says that current stretches of smart motorway will be “further upgraded with best-in-class technology and resources”. This includes a £390 million investment in 150 additional emergency areas, which aim to provide drivers with more places to stop if they get into difficulty.
The AA is one of the scheme’s most vocal opponents. The motoring organisation has been raising concerns about the lack of emergency refuge areas for several years.
Its president Edmund King OBE told BBC News in January that the announcement is “a step in the right direction” but added that “it’s almost admitting that we haven’t got enough data to say whether these roads or safe or not.”
Ensuring the safety of all road users
Director of Novum Law Anna Cole, a specialist road safety solicitor, said:
“The safety of all road users is paramount, so we welcome the Government’s decision to delay the rollout of smart motorways. It’s vital there’s enough data to properly assess whether smart motorways are more dangerous than conventional motorways.”
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