'Death trap' smart motorways rollout halted in win for Nick Ferrari campaign

12 January 2022, 00:05 | Updated: 12 January 2022, 05:34

The rollout of new smart motorways will be halted until a full five years’ worth of safety data becomes available
The rollout of new smart motorways will be halted until a full five years’ worth of safety data becomes available. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The rollout of "death trap" smart motorways will be paused amid safety concerns, the Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed.

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Plans for new all-lane-running smart motorways - where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane - will be halted until a full five years’ worth of safety data becomes available, the DfT said.

But existing smart motorways will remain in use.

The sudden halt to the "scandal" comes as a victory for LBC's Nick Ferrari who has repeatedly called on the government to scrap the "ludicrous and clearly unsafe policy" as quickly as possible.

In the announcement on Wednesday, the DfT also pledged to invest £900 million to improve safety on existing stretches of ALR motorways including an extra £390 million to install additional emergency areas.

The decision follows a recommendation by the Commons Transport Select Committee, which said there was not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the smart motorway project.

In February last year, Nick Ferrari questioned if there were "mixed messages" with the Government "working flat out to make sure you don't die of Covid, but meanwhile is sanctioning turning hard shoulders into moving lanes of traffic where people are dying."

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Nick added: “Every day, more lives are put at risk by this ludicrous and clearly unsafe policy."

Carriageways where the rollout of all-lane-running smart motorways is being paused include the M3 J9-14, M40/M42 interchange, the M62 J20-25, and the M25 J10-16, according to the Department for Transport.

For existing smart motorways and those that are already under construction, additional emergency refuge areas and technology to identify stopped vehicles will be installed where possible, the Government said.

Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.

Currently there are around 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it's crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

"Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps."

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The Transport Secretary also thanked campaigners and those who lost loved ones on smart motorways stating he "shares their concerns".

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee, added: "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.

"The existing network of smart motorways must be improved to deliver more emergency refuge areas and better technology to close live lanes and reduce the risk for stranded motorists. The addition of £390 million is a welcome statement of intent."

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The DfT also confirmed the conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways - where the hard shoulder is turned on and off as a traffic lane in response to traffic flow - to all-lane-running motorways is also being paused.

Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose 8-year-old son Dev died in a motorway crash on the M6 in 2018, welcomed the move stating: "Conventional and smart motorways both have their risks and benefits.

"I welcome this pause in the rollout of smart motorways which will give us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network.

"I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900 million to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died.

"However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for Autonomous Emergency Braking and further support for on-going driver education."