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Transport Secretary announces smart motorway review amid safety fears

Smart motorways have been developed as a way of increasing capacity and reducing congestion without the more costly process of widening roads.

Smart motorways are designed to increase capacity and cut congestion (Highways England/PA)
Smart motorways are designed to increase capacity and cut congestion (Highways England/PA)

By Richard Wheeler and Sophie Morris, PA Political Staff

Driver safety on smart motorways is under review with recommendations expected within weeks, according to the Transport Secretary.

Grant Shapps told MPs “we know people are dying” on smart motorways but added greater detail is required on how safe they are compared to full motorways.

He insisted he wants to ensure all motorways in the country are “as safe as they possibly can be”.

His confirmation of the review comes after Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told the Transport Select Committee that smart motorways with a hard shoulder only used at busy times are “too complicated for people to use”.

We have been raising concerns for more than six years AA president Edmund King

He said it will not build any more “dynamic” smart motorways because too many motorists do not understand them.

The design is already in use on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Shapps told MPs: “The House I know is very concerned about smart motorways.

“I’ve heard those concerns raised today and previously and I have asked my department to carry out at pace an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.”

Lilian Greenwood, Labour chairwoman of the committee, asked if the review would be carried out by the Department for Transport or an independent person.

Mr Shapps replied: “I will ensure that it’s the department that is making decisions on this because I think some of the statistics have been difficult to understand, and we know people are dying on smart motorways.

“Of course, we know 70 or 80 people die a year on full motorways.

“Understanding whether they are less safe, the same or safer – it turns out not to be as straightforward as members might imagine – I want all of those facts and recommendations that can be put into place to ensure that all of our motorways are as safe as they possibly can be.

“I will get this done in a matter of weeks.”

In March, Derek Jacobs, 83, was killed when his car was hit after it stopped in the fast lane on a section of the M1 in Derbyshire converted to a smart motorway.

AA president Edmund King expressed his delight that smart motorways will be reviewed and called for more emergency refuge areas to be installed on the roads.

“We have been raising concerns for more than six years about the dangers to the 38% who break down in a live lane on smart motorways,” he said.

“We know there are real situations where lives would have been saved if drivers on smart motorways had somewhere safe to stop. We owe it to all drivers to give them a safe harbour to stop if their vehicle develops problems.”

Philip Gomm, of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: “Highways England says it is ‘data led’, but despite its reassurances that the numbers point to smart motorways being safe, that message has failed to reassure many drivers.

“This review is therefore timely, but whatever the conclusion the big challenge will be in successfully reporting those conclusions to sceptical road users.”

PA

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