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Smart motorway schemes paused after Transport Select Committee report raises safety concerns


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The brakes are being applied by the government on so-called smart motorway schemes after concerns were raised about safety.

The move follows a critical report by a cross-party select committee which urged ministers to consider pressing the pause button to allow it to evaluate the initiative.

Work on the smart motorway on the M20 was completed in 2020
Work on the smart motorway on the M20 was completed in 2020

The government u-turn does not, however, spell the demise of the policy altogether.

Kent’s only smart motorway scheme is along a stretch of the M20 around Maidstone. It became operational last year and will stay in place.

In common with many other schemes, it has been the subject of widespread criticism.

There have been a number of fatalities on smart motorways and other complaints that they are unsafe.

The government appears to have acknowledged safety concerns with an announcement that where work is already under way on smart motorways, additional emergency refuge areas and Stopped Vehicle Detection technology will be installed where possible, in a £390 million retrofit programme.

Work under way in January 2020 on the smart motorway on the M20 between Junction 5 and 4 at Aylesford. Picture: Andy Jones
Work under way in January 2020 on the smart motorway on the M20 between Junction 5 and 4 at Aylesford. Picture: Andy Jones

Ministers plan to collect data and figures on accident rates on smart motorways for five years.

A related scheme involving the conversion of seven "dynamic hard shoulder" motorways to "all-lane running" schemes will also be paused.

The government will consider alternative options for enhancing capacity on key roads and says the case for controlled motorways will be revisited.

The independent road regulator will independently evaluate Stopped Vehicle Detection technology, along with other safety measures.

This will include incidences of live-lane breakdowns and reducing the risk for those who break down.

Huw Merriman MP, who chairs the Transport Select 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.”

After the Transport Select Committee published its report last November, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch said: “The roll-out of an all-lane running motorway on the M20 is one of the least smart things to have happened.

"The select committee report articulates the concerns that many had and continue to have about its safety.”

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