Smart motorways: Grant Shapps orders review after 'genuine worries' about death stats

25 March 2021, 12:46 | Updated: 25 March 2021, 14:51

Some MPs believe there are "genuine worries" about the safety of smart motorways
Some MPs believe there are "genuine worries" about the safety of smart motorways. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A review has been launched into smart motorways amid "genuine worries" over the number of crashes and deaths associated with the scheme.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday announced the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will carry out an independent review of safety data for the controversial roads.

In a written statement to Parliament, he said: "While the evidence has suggested that ALR motorways are in most ways as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones, I am determined to go further and ensure that they are the safest roads in Britain."

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A spokesman for the ORR said "robust and trusted data and analysis is essential", with hopes it will provide clarity over the suspected hazards the motorways cause.

Mr Shapps also ordered his officials to continue their work with Highways England - the Government-owned firm responsible for England's motorways and major A roads - on "developing possible future options" for reducing accidents on smart motorways.

The design of all lane running (ALR) smart motorways, which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane, has led to safety concerns following a high number of fatal incidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.

Fourteen people were killed in 2019 on motorways where the hard shoulder was either permanently removed or being temporarily used as a live running lane, according to analysis.

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Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: "We strongly support the decision to bring in the ORR.

"Public confidence in the safety of smart motorways appears to be stuck at a low ebb and the best way to offer reassurance to sceptical drivers is by publishing comprehensive safety data that has been independently scrutinised by the regulator."

Sensors on smart motorways detect stopped vehicles and can close down a lane if needed
Sensors on smart motorways detect stopped vehicles and can close down a lane if needed. Picture: PA Images

It follows the launch of an inquiry into the roads by the Commons' Transport Select Committee last month, with chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman warning there are "genuine worries" about the roads.

Ruling on one of the latest deaths involving smart motorways, a coroner in Sheffield claimed in January they "present an ongoing risk of future deaths" after two people were killed when a lorry driver ploughed into their vehicles while they were stationary on the M1 in South Yorkshire.

Mr Shapps published a smart motorway action plan in March 2020 with 18 measures to boost safety and has also ordered Highways England to produce a report one year on, outlining its progress and identifying plans that can be delivered ahead of schedule.

This document will be published "by summer, once I am assured that the proposals are sufficiently robust", he added.