AN 18-point action plan to tackle the safety of smart motorways has been announced by the Transport Secretary today (Thursday) — leaving Rotherham MP Sarah Champion asking: “Why were they ever commissioned in the first place with deadly flaws?”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said safety needed to be improved on the scheme — but claimed roads using the controversial set-up were “as safe, or safer” than conventional motorways.
There are two types of so-called smart motorways: dynamic (part-time hard shoulder), and All-Lane Running (ALR).
In South Yorkshire, five people have died in ten months on the stretch of the M1 which currently uses the ALR model.
Mr Shapps said the action plan would focus on getting help to broken-down drivers much quicker and making the schemes less confusing.
He has announced “confusing” dynamic hard shoulders will be converted into ALR versions by the end of March 2025, to provide “a more consistent experience for motorists”.
An investigation into where multiple collisions have occurred, including between junctions 30 and 35 (Sheffield) and junctions 39 and 42 (Wakefield) will also take place.
Mr Shapps said: “I’ve been greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways, and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.
“I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps. I envisaged it to be swift, but during the course of our investigations a complex picture emerged — which warranted further work.
“That work has now concluded and overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional ones.
“But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.
The action plan also includes:
- speeding up the deployment of “stopped vehicle detection” technology across the entire ALR smart motorway network, so stopped vehicles can be detected and the lanes closed more quickly.
- increasing traffic officer patrols on those smart motorways where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart to reduce the average attendance time when a vehicle is stopped from 17 minutes to ten minutes.
- reducing the distance between places to stop in an emergency to 3/4 of a mile where feasible so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be one mile.
- installing more emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorways and considering a national programme to install more.
- making emergency areas more visible.
- installing more signs to direct motorists to emergency areas.
- committing £5 million extra to improve public information and awareness about smart motorways and what to do in an emergency, more than doubling the previously planned spend.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion welcomed the improvements, but criticised the continued operation of existing ALR schemes with what she called the recognised lower safety standards inherent to them.
She tweeted: “Very pleased @grantshapps has just announced additional safety features on smart motorways. But, why were they commissioned in the first place with deadly flaws and will he revert All Lane Running back to hard shoulder with immediate effect?
The Rotherham MP said the government was “gambling with the lives of motorists” and the plans didn't go far enough.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: “Every death in any road accident is tragic, and we are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible.
“We will be taking forward the measures the secretary of state for transport has set out, and we will be improving further our information to drivers to help them be safer on all of our roads, including our smart motorway network.”