Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News

The rollout of smart motorways must be halted, MPs said as they questioned the safety record of stretches in which the hard shoulder has been turned into a “live lane”.

Ministers were told they should not open any more new smart motorways until they have data to prove that they are safer than traditional motorways.

MPs also urged the Government to build more emergency refuge areas for existing smart motorways, meaning drivers are never more than a mile from one if they break down.

The calls came as families who lost loved ones in live lane crashes marched on Parliament on Monday, carrying coffins and demanding that hard shoulders be reinstated.

In a scathing report published on Tuesday, MPs on the transport select committee criticised the rollout of smart motorways.

Ministers have argued that the motorways are “as safe or safer” than conventional ones and prevent drivers from spilling onto more dangerous A-roads.

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News


A woman and a girl hold a placard on Parliament Square


Credit: Heathcliff O’Malley for the Telegraph

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News


Protesters with coffins outside the Houses of Parliament


Credit: Heathcliff O’Malley for the Telegraph

However, in recent years a number of people have been killed in crashes after failing to get to refuge areas when they broke down on smart motorways.

In the report, MPs found Highways England, now rebranded as National Highways, along with successive governments, “underestimated the scale of safety measures” needed to “mitigate the risks associated with the permanent removal of the hard shoulder”.

It added they failed to deliver safety improvements in a “timely fashion” despite repeatedly telling previous select committees that the rollout of closer emergency refuge areas and technology to spot stranded cars would be introduced.

Meanwhile, the British public had been left in the dark about the “radical change in the design” of the motorway network because communication with motorists had been “woeful”.

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News

Last year, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, ordered a series of safety improvements to smart motorways following a review. Measures included that no new ones should be opened without software to detect when cars had broken down.

Around 300 additional miles of smart motorways are currently planned for 2025, almost doubling the 375 miles currently in operation.

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News


A demonstrator carries a cardboard coffin with the London Eye in the background


Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

, Rollout of smart motorways must be stopped, say MPs amid safety fears, The Evepost BBC News


Claire Mercer (left), the widow of Jason Mercer who was killed on the M1, during the protest


Credit: Heathcliff O’Malley for the Telegraph

Huw Merriman, the chairman of the transport committee, said more evidence was needed before further smart motorways are opened “because lives have been lost and many motorists feel unsafe using them”.

MPs also delivered a veiled criticism of Mr Shapps’s insistence that data shows “smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones”.

They pointed out that the benchmark of five years of safety data had only been collected on around a quarter – 29 miles – of all lane running smart motorways on which the hard shoulder is always live.

The report said the current safety statistics were “limited and volatile” and no new smart motorways should open until five years of research had been compiled on all existing stretches.

MPs also called for new emergency refuge areas to be created on existing smart motorways so the maximum distance between them is reduced from 1.6 miles to one mile.

The report stopped short of calling for smart motorways to be scrapped altogether but urged ministers to consider changing to “controlled” versions where the hard shoulder is back in use and the speed limit varied to manage congestion.

Claire Mercer, who set up Smart Motorways Kill after her husband Jason died on the M1 after stopping in a live lane, said: “I dread to think what tragedy will make ministers wake up to what every motorists knows – smart motorways kill and Highways England staff know they cannot spot stranded vehicles.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said it would “consider” MPs’ findings, adding: “We recognise that improvements have not always been made as quickly as they could have been in the past but, as the committee has set out, the Transport Secretary is absolutely committed to making smart motorways as safe as possible, including committing £500 million on upgrades and the faster rollout of stopped vehicle detection.”