The roll-out of smart motorways should be ‘paused’ immediately because there is insufficient data on their safety, according to MPs.
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has made the recommendation in a new report on the use of all-lane-running (ALR) motorways – in which the hard shoulder is permanently used as an extra lane – that raises further questions about their safety.
While the committee noted that the government has made a number of safety improvements to smart motorways, the report said the decision taken in March 2020 to make all new smart motorways ALR roads was “premature”.
It has called on the Department for Transport and National Highways to pause the roll-out of further ALR motorways until five years of safety and economic data is available for the remaining 112 miles of such roads introduced before 2020.
The committee wants a full health and safety assessment of the ALR motorways, and for all existing ALR motorways to be retrofitted with refuge areas a maximum of one mile apart - decreasing to 0.75 miles where possible.
The MPs also want the Office of Road and Rail to independently evaluate the effectiveness of stopped vehicle technology, and for the addition of the ‘emergency corridor manoeuvre’ to be added to the Highway Code for traffic on congested roads.
Dynamic hard shoulder motorways “apparently confuse drivers”, adds the report, because the hard shoulder is opened at unpredictable times to combat traffic. Instead, it says a more consistent approach, with the road open at set times, could clarify the situation for drivers while not completely removing the hard shoulder.
The report also notes that controlled motorways - which retain a hard shoulder but use technology to regulate traffic speed – have the lowest casualty rate of all motorway types in the UK.
The House of Commons Transport Committee is comprised of 11 MPs, and is chaired by Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle.
AA president Edmund King described the report as “pragmatic”, and noted it “reflects many of the actions we had been calling for”. He added: “We hope that the government will respond quickly to these recommendations so that action can be taken to improve the safety of smart motorways and the public’s perception of these roads.”