It has been reported that the £3bn project to introduce new smart motorways across the UK has been halted due to serious concerns over safety.
Smart motorways are a type of highway that uses technology to improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion.
They use variable speed limits, lane-control systems, and other advanced technologies to keep vehicles moving safely and efficiently. In many cases, they remove the hard shoulder – which opponents to their introduction have highlighted as a safety risk.
The variable speed limits employed on a smart motorway are monitored and adjusted in real-time to regulate the speed of vehicles and reduce the risk of collisions. The lane-control system allows for the closure of certain lanes during periods of high traffic, to help reduce congestion.
In early 2022, the Government started a review into the cost and safety of the smart motorways and paused further construction work, pending the results of the data.
As a result, the introduction of new smart motorways in Manchester, across the Pennines, and in Greater London were delayed.
Contractors and senior industry leaders have been made aware of the Government’s plans – however, no final decision has been officially announced.
This will be made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who during the Conservative Party leadership race, planned to ban any new smart motorways being built.
He said: “Smart motorways are unpopular because they are unsafe. We need to listen to drivers, be on their side and stop with the pursuit of policies that go against common sense.”
The news was first revealed by the i newspaper, where a contractor told them: “We’re no longer expecting any new smart motorways. Financial pressure on the Government, alongside the unpopularity of the scheme, makes it seem untenable going forward.”
They also expected an official announcement regarding their future in the next few months.
Following the initial report that the Government may no longer build all-lane running smart motorways in the future, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes commented: “If Ministers are giving serious consideration to completely scrapping new all-lane-running smart motorways, then this is an admission that the Government no longer has faith in these types of roads, a conclusion that most drivers came to a long time ago.
“The next big question is: what happens to the hundreds of miles of motorway without a hard shoulder?
“It’s clear from RAC research that drivers want the hard shoulder back, so it may be the case that solid white lines have to be painted to all the inside lanes of these motorways.
“While overall capacity would be dramatically reduced, we would still have the benefit of all the installed technology, such as variable speed limits which help to manage traffic flow more efficiently.
“As increasing motorway capacity was the reason smart motorways were introduced, there would still be the option of opening the hard shoulder to vehicles at peak times.
“We know from our research that this is something 70% of drivers are in favour of as it provides a place of relative refuge for the majority of the day. What’s more, the safety record of these dynamic hard shoulder motorways is very good.”