Currently reading: New smart motorway projects halted amid safety concerns
£92 million project in Kent could be axed as transport secretary responds to growing concern over smart motorways
Felix Page Autocar writer
News
3 mins read
31 January 2020

The UK government has paused all ongoing 'smart motorway' development schemes, as it awaits the results of a review into their safety. 

The move, announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps yesterday in the House of Commons, means that a £92 million project to convert a stretch of the M20 in Kent into a smart motorway has been put on hold, and could be axed entirely. It will not open as a smart motorway before the results of the review are made public, but a date for this has not been given by the Department for Transport. 

"That stretch of the M20 and all other stretches currently being worked on will not be opened until we have the outcome," Mr Shapps told MPs. The works, which have been underway for two years, were anticipated to finish in March.

Other roads affected include a lengthy section of the M23 between Gatwick Airport and the M25, part of the M6 near Coventry and a 10-mile stretch of the M62 in Greater Manchester. 

The transport secretary's decision follows Highways England's confirmation, earlier this week, that 38 people have been killed in crashes on smart motorways in the past five years.

The announcement came in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the BBC’s Panorama programme. It was the first time Highways England, which manages the country’s road infrastructure, has reported the total number of deaths.

Smart motorways have come under heavy criticism in the five years since they were first trialled in the West Midlands in 2006. The removal of the hard shoulder to improve traffic flow means broken-down vehicles unable to reach a refuge area are forced to remain stationary in ‘live’ lanes, with no protection against oncoming traffic.

The Panorama report also revealed that one section of the M25 motorway has seen a 20-fold increase in near-misses (incidents with “the potential to cause injury or ill health”) since it became a stretch of smart motorway in April 2014. In the five years prior to its reconfiguration, there were 72 near misses. In the five years after, there were 1485. 

It has also emerged that a warning sign on the same section of the M25 had been out of action for 336 days. Smart motorways are deployed across approximately 200 miles of the UK’s 2200-mile network.

Grant Schapps told Panorama that smart motorways should be “as safe or safer than regular motorways or we shouldn’t have them at all”. 

If the government decides to continue with the smart motorway project, it will consider various means of making them safer. A radar-based car detection system would likely be rolled out across all smart motorways over the next three years, automatically detecting stationary vehicles and triggering warning signs to alert drivers behind. There are also calls from figures such as AA president Edmund King to substantially increase the number of refuge areas on roads.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Back to top

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy for the RAC, welcomed reports of an impending reform: “A commitment to install stopped vehicle detection technology on the whole smart motorway network would be a welcome step and something the RAC has called for consistently in recent years.

“RAC research suggests that more than two-thirds of drivers believe that permanently removing the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown. Simply ploughing on with the status quo regardless isn’t an option anymore.”

Read more

How Autocar writers would fix Britain's roads and transport​

Tory government pledges £25bn for road improvement​

Join the debate

Comments
23

27 January 2020

The inital trail of smart mtorways featured a hard shooulder that was turned into a live lane at peak periods and back into a hard shoulder at quiet times.

Some stretches of the M1 are perminant foure lane running with refuge areas. 

I have been stuck fopr many an hour while traffic grinds to a halt becuase soemone had a puncture or minor breakdown and had to abandon thier car in a live lane. 

Smart motorways are dangerous but they do increase capacity. Maybe if there were more Traffic Officers on those sections they might be safer?

 

27 January 2020
Seems the smart option is to build wider roads? Maybe even building more roads? The car is fantastic at getting people from A to B, so why ignore that huge advantage?

And remember that electric cars are becoming more popular so the excuse of pollution is gone. We'll still needs roads and parking for electric cars.

27 January 2020
Ad99 wrote:

The inital trail of smart mtorways featured a hard shooulder that was turned into a live lane at peak periods and back into a hard shoulder at quiet times.

Some stretches of the M1 are perminant foure lane running with refuge areas. 

I have been stuck fopr many an hour while traffic grinds to a halt becuase soemone had a puncture or minor breakdown and had to abandon thier car in a live lane. 

Smart motorways are dangerous but they do increase capacity. Maybe if there were more Traffic Officers on those sections they might be safer?

 

Not to mention how poorly "smart" motorways are run.

The number of times I've been in traffic grinding to a halt - only to see the obstruction on the other side, and absolutely nothing on my side.

Who on earth are they employing in the control centers that they can get the sides of the motorway mixed up?!

More roads supposedly isn't "green" - but vehicles are at their most efficient while cruising (even electric ones).

So a (relatively) small outlay of carbon to build new roads, saves high amounts!

The same goes for inner cities! - Do they weight bus routes based on the congestion, and therefore additional pollution, they cause?

27 January 2020

I don't have a major issue with the concept of smart motorways - you're making more efficient use of the existing road system and controlling traffic more closely. However, the speed limits often seem to change rapidly and sometimes unpredictably. Combined with the inevitable speed cameras, this makes driving on a smart motorway far less 'relaxing' than a normal motorway. The alternative to smart motorways is to build more motorways but there are so many constraints to building more roads that I can't see that as a viable alternative.

27 January 2020

What is so smart about British highways without hard shoulders? There are British made cars in the UK and they are pronr to break down. Terribly dangerous, I'd say.

289

27 January 2020
I agree, it is a lethal solution dreamed up by incompetent idiots.
No Motorway should be without a hard shoulder (in itself an extremely dangerous place to find yourself). Sods law you will never break down close to a refuge area where you could possibly roll in.
However, we are where we are....I don't see Highways stopping the work on the M1 and M4 whilst a review is commenced. Still pressing on like a lemming towards a cliff edge!
In my view, the inside ('smart') lane should only be used with a 30 MPH limit on the two inside lanes...reducing the chance of a high speed rear-end collision and giving more time to swap lanes. You cannot have all lanes running at 70 mph, it is far too dangerous (as proved).
If Highways had put as much thought into this as they had around all the extra opportunities to fleece the drivers with speeding fines through new tech, we may not have lost so many lives.

31 January 2020
sabre wrote:

What is so smart about British highways without hard shoulders? There are British made cars in the UK and they are pronr to break down. Terribly dangerous, I'd say.

you could be worse off, could be a German car.

27 January 2020

 These roads were never thought out properly, finding out the hard way, using humans as guinea pigs, bad idea.

27 January 2020

Motorways, and indeed many other roads, need to be widened. Not take a cheap and dangerous option  like smart motorways which remove a safety feature and cause more traffic due to the slow down, speed up nature of them.

And generally more roads need to be built too. Car ownership and use continues to rise and is not only crucial for people's mobility, especially with a rubbish public transport system, but it's also crucial for the economy in getting people to work, travel around and transporting goods around. Mobility and the economy is far more important than the environment. Forget ecologists and conservation warriors, who are minority thorn in the side when it comes to road building, it's time this government invested in new roads and properly widen motorways. Scrap HS2 and invest those billions in to new roads, the transport network that actually matters to people and the economy.

27 January 2020
Roadster wrote:

Motorways, and indeed many other roads, need to be widened. Not take a cheap and dangerous option  like smart motorways which remove a safety feature and cause more traffic due to the slow down, speed up nature of them.

And generally more roads need to be built too. Car ownership and use continues to rise and is not only crucial for people's mobility, especially with a rubbish public transport system, but it's also crucial for the economy in getting people to work, travel around and transporting goods around. Mobility and the economy is far more important than the environment. Forget ecologists and conservation warriors, who are minority thorn in the side when it comes to road building, it's time this government invested in new roads and properly widen motorways. Scrap HS2 and invest those billions in to new roads, the transport network that actually matters to people and the economy.

Jesus christ what a load of hypocritical cr*p youve just written - first you say scrap HS2 and then you criticise public transport for being "rubbish" - you couldnt make it up ! Then you say the transport is more important than environment - the environment is pretty much THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, cos we wont be able to survive if things carry on like they are - what use are more roads when all the people are dead or dying ?

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week