Calls are being made for all smart motorways to be scrapped after the Government announced that it was cancelling new schemes following safety concerns.
New smart motorways – including the 11 already paused and three new schemes – have been ditched, with ministers citing financial pressures and a lack of public confidence.
Seven of the 14 projects were going to involve converting stretches of motorway into ‘all-lane running’ roads where the hard shoulder is permanently removed.
They will now remain as ‘dynamic’ smart motorways where the hard shoulder can be opened as an extra lane during busy times.
The construction of two stretches of smart motorway from junctions six to eight on the M56, and from 21a to 26 on the M6, will continue as they are already more than three quarters complete.
Announcing the Government’s decision on Saturday (April 15), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “All drivers deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country. That’s why last year I pledged to stop the building of all new smart motorways, and today I’m making good on that promise.
“Many people across the country rely on driving to get to work, to take their children to school and go about their daily lives and I want them to be able to do so with full confidence that the roads they drive on are safe.”
Transport secretary Mark Harper added: “We want the public to know that this Government is listening to their concerns.”
Smart motorways were developed to create more capacity and cut congestion on roads, without spending money and causing disruption building news ones.
However, they have been criticised by MPs and road safety bodies, including the AA and RAC.
In December, the RAC reported that half of drivers (49%) avoid using lane one on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways, negating the benefit of increased carriageway capacity.
More than two-thirds of drivers (68%) also said they regularly see motorists using other lanes when the inside lane is free, with a further 20% claiming to witness this sometimes and 5% very occasionally.
The Government and National Highways say that they will continue to invest £900 million in further safety improvements on existing smart motorways.
This includes finishing the installation of 150 extra emergency areas across the network in line with the commitments made in response to the Transport Select Committee, as well as further improving the performance of stopped vehicle detection technology on every all lane running smart motorway.
The Government says it will also continue to give motorists clear advice when using existing smart motorways.
Edmund King, president of the AA, welcomed the announcement that no new schemes would be built, but said it needed to go further and restore a permanent hard shoulder to the 375 miles of existing smart motorways.
He told the BBC: “Drivers don’t trust them, the technology is not fool proof, and 37% of breakdowns on smart motorways happen in live lanes. And basically those drivers are sitting ducks.”
The RAC meanwhile said existing smart motorways – which make up about 10% of England’s motorway network – now had to be made “as safe as possible”.
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: “This is a watershed announcement and a victory for everyone who has campaigned against these motorways that, by their design, put drivers in more danger should they be unlucky enough to break down on one.
“Our research shows all lane running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we’re pleased the Government has finally arrived at the same conclusion.
“It’s now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.
“The possibility of converting all lane running stretches to the ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ configuration, where the hard shoulder is open and closed depending on the levels of traffic, could be one option the Government considers.”
Meera Naran, whose eight-year-old son was killed on a smart motorway in 2018 when the stationary car he was in was hit by a lorry, said the Government’s announcement was a “huge achievement” but she would continue campaigning.
She said smart motorways and regular motorways “carry very different benefits and risks” and suggested merging both models.