Smart motorway rollout paused for five years amid safety fears

The Government’s rollout of the much-criticised smart motorway scheme has been halted.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 9:20 am

The Department for Transport says the construction of any more ‘All Lane Running’ routes has been suspended ‘until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available’.

It comes after a report by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee stated there was not enough safety or economic data to justify the project and follows action by campaigners including Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on the M1, alongside Alexandru Murgeanu in 2019.

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The rollout of smart motorways will be halted indefinitely until the Government can collect 'five years of data' on safety for drivers.

However, Mrs Mercer told the BBC: “The only acceptable thing would be for all hard shoulders to be returned permanently, 24/7, on all motorways.

“If that doesn't happen, she said: "We'll carry on fighting, and pushing the legal challenge.”

The report, which was published in November, described the Government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions – where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane – as ‘premature’. MPs subsequently called for the rollout to be halted.

Further, the Government claims it will commit £900m to “improving safety” on existing All Lane Running routes, including building extra emergency areas.

Jason Mercer, aged 44, from Rotherham, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, were killed when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into them on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.

“While our initial data shows 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 multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.”

Smart motorways, like the stretch of the M1 near Hucknall and Bulwell, converts hard shoulders into extra lanes for traffic, alongside emergency refuge areas and electronic signs which can be activated in the case of a crash or breakdown.

In November, a protest led by Mrs Mercer saw 38 coffins carried across London to represent lives lost on smart motorways since they were introduced.

However, the same month a Select Committee report noted controlled smart motorways have the ‘lowest casualty rates’ of all roads across motorways and major A roads in England.

There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England.

Nick Harris, National Highways chief executive officer, said: “While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.

“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”

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

Mr Murgeanu, aged 22, and 44-year-old Mr Mercer died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield without a hard shoulder.

Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months in October 2020 after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.