Smart motorways: Government halts rollout of all-lane running schemes

Government accepts Transport Committee’s recommendations, agreeing to collect further smart motorway safety data

smart motorway

The rollout of controversial all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways has been halted with immediate effect after the Government agreed to a series of recommendations set out by the Transport Committee last year.

All-lane running smart motorways that are currently under construction and more than halfway to completion - such as those on the M4 and M27 - will be finished, but other schemes will be paused until the Government has collected five years of safety and economic data for every ALR scheme introduced before 2020.

This comes after the Transport Committee’s conclusion that the Department for Transport’s (DfT) decision in March 2020 to make all new motorways all-lane running was premature, as the “evidence base was insufficient”.

The conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways - where the outside lane can switch between being a hard shoulder and a live running lane - to ALR will also be paused. In addition, the case for controlled motorways where variable speed limits are implemented, but the hard shoulder is left as standard, will be revisited.

The DfT and National Highways have committed to a £390million retrofit programme, including the installation of 150 new emergency refuge areas - no more than three-quarters of a mile apart where physically possible - and further stopped vehicle detection technology. These measures will be independently evaluated by the Office for Rail and Road, reports due on an annual basis.

There has also been a commitment from the secretary for state for transport Grant Shapps to further investigate the emergency corridor proposed by the AA in 2017. This would see the Highway Code updated with a manoeuvre where, in a motorway traffic jam, vehicles would be required to pull over towards each side of the road, leaving a space in the middle for emergency service and recovery vehicles to pass through.

Edmund King, president of the AA, commented: “The AA has been a major critic of smart motorways in our campaign for over a decade to improve their safety. At last, we have a transport secretary who has made progress and taken a positive and pragmatic approach. He has today accepted many of the measures we have been calling for.”

He added: “Whilst smart motorways will never be perfect, we do believe that considerable progress has been made to make them safer. We will be holding the Government to account to ensure these actions will be implemented as soon as possible.”

Huw Merriman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “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.”

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