Smart motorways: Government makes immediate pause in rollout of all-lane running

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FULL STORY AND REPORT: Transport Committee report recommendations force change to Government policy

  • Rollout of new All Lane Running smart motorway schemes will be paused until five years of safety data available 
  • Current stretches of smart motorway to be further upgraded with best-in-class technology and resources 
  • £900 million commitment to ensure drivers feel safe and confident, including extra £390 million to install additional emergency areas

Following the Transport Committee’s inquiry into smart motorways, the Government will immediately pause the rollout of all-lane running motorway schemes. Where work is already under way on smart motorways, additional emergency refuge areas and Stopped Vehicle Detection will be installed where possible, in a £390 million retrofit programme.

In its response to the Committee’s report Rollout and safety of smart motorways, published today, the Government will now move to collect five years of safety and economic data for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020.  After this point, the Government will assess the data and make an informed decision on next steps.

Evidence base ‘insufficient’

The Committee’s report had concluded that the March 2020 decision to make all new motorways all-lane running was premature as the evidence base was insufficient.

The conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways to ALR schemes will also be paused and the Government will consider alternative options for enhancing capacity on the Strategic Road Network as it prepares for the next Road Investment Strategy. The case for controlled motorways will be revisited.

Although available data shows smart motorways are comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates, while their rollout is paused, the Government will go further by ensuring 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.

Hard shoulders ‘not always safe’

The Department for Transport has welcomed the Transport Committee’s report, which endorsed its focus on further upgrading the safety of existing ALR smart motorways rather than reinstating the hard shoulder. As concluded by the Committee, evidence suggests 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.

The safety improvements set out in the Government’s 2020 action plan are to be independently evaluated by the Office for Rail and Road. Ministers have committed to an annual report to consider progress and will consider the Committee’s recommendation that the ORR reports on wider work by National Highways to improve safety on the Strategic Road Network.  The Government will investigate the benefits of health and safety assessment being undertaken by the ORR before changes to design or operational standards are implemented on the SRN.

“In terms of fatality rates, smart motorways are the safest roads in the country.

Per mile travelled, fatal casualty rates are a third higher on conventional motorways (0.16 per hundred million vehicle miles, hmvm) than on ALR motorways (0.12 per hmvm).

Per mile travelled, fatal casualty rates on strategic road network A-roads (0.44 per hmvm) are more than three and a half times the rate on ALR motorways.”

Source: Department for Transport, 12 January 2022

The Government has committed to improving safety measures on existing stretches of Smart Motorway. The ORR will be tasked with independently evaluating Stopped Vehicle Detection technology, along with other safety measures. This will include a commitment to reduce incidences of live-lane breakdowns and reducing the risk for those who break down. Today’s response sets out a commitment to make these roads less confusing for drivers and give clear direction on what drivers should do if they break down in a live lane.

Assurances given and not delivered

Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, says: “This is the Committee’s second inquiry into Smart Motorways. Back in 2016, our concerns about safety were not addressed. Assurances were given and not delivered. This time, Ministers have accepted all our key recommendations and we welcome today’s response.

“It was clear to our Committee that the public needs more reassurance that these motorways are safe to use. With conflicting and patchy evidence covering a limited number of years, more time was required to properly assess the impact on safety. By accepting our recommendation to pause the rollout of Smart Motorways, the Government will have the weight of evidence to assist planning for future road building design.

“It is important that this extra time is not just spent on evaluation – it must be focused on making Smart Motorways safer. The existing network of smart motorways must be improved to deliver more emergency refuge areas and better technology to close live lanes and reduce the risk for stranded motorists. The addition of £390 million is a welcome statement of intent.

“The Secretary of State for Transport and the Road Minister deserve credit for revisiting the 2020 stocktake and action plan and aiming for higher standards by accepting the recommendations in our report. The Transport Committee undertakes to track the performance of the Government’s actions. It is imperative that the Department delivers on the actions it has promised. With today’s response, the Government has demonstrated it shares our concerns and determination to make these motorways safer.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety. I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.

“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

“Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps. I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”

“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads” 

National Highways CEO Nick Harris

National Highways CEO Nick Harris said: “We have listened to public concerns about smart motorways and we are fully committed to taking forward the additional measures the Transport Committee has recommended.

“While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.

“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.” 

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. 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.

Dynamic Hard Shoulder conversions also paused

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.

Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose 8-year-old son Dev, died in a motorway crash on the M6 in 2018, said: “Conventional and smart motorways both have their risks and benefits. I welcome this pause in the rollout of smart motorways which will give us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network.

“I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900 million to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died. However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for Autonomous Emergency Braking and further support for on-going driver education.”

The Government’s new commitments will also be set out in a written ministerial statement to Parliament on January 12.

  • House scrutiny: On January 13, the Chair of the Committee will facilitate two opportunities for debate across the House on the Committee’s Report and Government Response. During the morning, there will be a Select Committee statement following Questions. At 1500, there will be a Westminster Hall debate for 90 minutes with contributions from the Front Bench. 

Committee membership:

  • Huw Merriman MP, Chair (Con, Bexhill and Battle)
  • Ben Bradshaw MP (Lab, Exeter)
  • Ruth Cadbury MP (Lab, Brentford and Isleworth)
  • Simon Jupp MP (Con, East Devon)
  • Robert Largan MP (Con, High Peak)
  • Chris Loder MP (Con, West Dorset)
  • Karl McCartney MP (Con, Lincoln)
  • Navendu Mishra (Lab, Stockport)
  • Grahame Morris MP (Lab, Easington)
  • Gavin Newlands MP (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
  • Greg Smith MP (Con, Buckingham)

Find latest news on the Committee’s website and Twitter feed, @CommonsTrans 

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