The government has announced it will not go ahead with plans to build any new smart motorways.
The rollout of new smart motorways was previously paused to allow for five years of safety data to be collected and assessed. A total of 14 new smart motorway stretches have now been entirely cancelled in this recent move, including seven which would have converted hard shoulders to running lanes.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged safety and cost concerns, saying that he was ‘making good’ on the promise he had made during his Tory leadership campaign in 2022.
“All drivers deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country,” the PM said.
The new schemes would have cost over £1bn, according to the Department for Transport.
What happens to existing smart motorways?
In the wake of the news, the Express undertook a poll that found 97% of participants supported the scrapping of future smart motorways. However, they referred to it as ‘the end of smart motorways’ which is far from the truth.
In this latest announcement, it was confirmed that a further 150 emergency stopping places would be retrofitted across the smart motorway network. However, there has been no mention of restoring a permanent hard shoulder to All Lanes Running sections. Current smart motorways will continue as they are, with the exception of the new refuge areas.
How has the public reacted?
While the news is welcome to many, safety concerns remain. Rightly, campaigners have been asking about the current stretches of smart motorway where fatalities have occurred, and especially those areas which no longer have a permanent hard shoulder.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings called it ‘a partial victory’, citing the several deaths that have occurred on stretches of the M1 through the county. “I remain firmly of the view that having people break down or stop for whatever reason in a live lane is inherently dangerous,” he said.
It’s our view that this news will not fully assuage the concerns people have about a lack of hard shoulder on multiple stretches of busy motorway across the UK. We reported in January that classic car drivers were avoiding smart motorways due to the risk of accident, and your response to this was a resounding demand for hard shoulders to be reinstated.
Your comments and views
Here are a few of the comments you shared with us when we reported on smart motorways earlier this year.
“We have broken down in our classic on a smart(?) motorway, and can confirm that it’s terrifying. Fortunately after about 10 mins I managed to get the car going again, there was no sign of any emergency services help or lane closure while we were stationary. We will certainly try to avoid them wherever possible in future.” – Nick Williams
“I avoid smart motorways due to them being intrinsically unsafe! My youngest car – Mini Check Mate is 1990 reg., and oldest 1960. Even if I had a newer car, they also can break down! – and not always able to ‘limp’ to a safe haven.
Smart motorways need to be banned – full stop! and those already designated, returned to original status, complete with hard shoulder! I am adamant about this!!” – Margaret McKay
“I avoid motorways with no hard shoulder they are lethal! They do frighten/worry me if you should break down. It would not be hard to put a hard shoulder on a lot of them.
PLEASE KEEP PUSHING TO GET HARD SHOULDERS FITTED.” – Neale Mosley
Heritage Managing Director, Mark Wilkinson, has also commented on the current situation:
“We are concerned on behalf of our customers that not enough is being done to deal with the very legitimate safety concerns raised by motorists and experts over recent years, about the risks of driving on smart motorways.
Specifically, we refer to stretches of smart motorway where there is no permanent hard shoulder – those known as ‘all lane running’.
While this news is a step in the right direction, we call on National Highways and the government to urgently consider the full abolition of all lanes running motorways and the restoration of permanent hard shoulders on all UK motorways.”
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