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No more ‘deadly’ smart motorways to be built after safety fears confirmed

By Tom Gibson | April 11, 2023


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The rollout of new smart motorways in the UK is set to be abandoned due to safety concerns.

No more ‘deadly’ smart motorways to be built after safety fears confirmed

According to reports, the rollout of new smart motorways in the UK is set to be abandoned due to safety concerns. 

Construction of new smart motorways, which convert the hard shoulder into another active traffic lane and use variable speed limits, was paused by the UK government in January 2020. 

The government pledged not to continue with the rollout until it had five years' worth of safety data from existing schemes. Now, it seems planned construction is unlikely to go ahead at all. 

The move follows the announcement that the Department for Transport is investing £48m in improving the safety of some of the country's highest-risk roads.

Critics have called the investment "a raindrop echoing in an ocean" and the announcement comes after a coroner's verdict this week stated that a crash on a smart motorway that left two pensioners dead would not have happened if there had been a hard shoulder. 

Roads Minister Richard Holden was recently challenged about this verdict and said the government is pausing the rollout to analyse the impact of the existing schemes. He also stated that the government has accepted there are issues with smart motorways, which is why the scheme has been paused.

Government figures show that 38 people were killed on smart motorways between 2014 and 2019, and more deaths have been reported since. 

The i newspaper reported that senior industry sources have said they have been told the smart motorways project is to be scaled back significantly, and future planned routes will be abandoned. 

One contractor stated that they are no longer expecting any new smart motorways and that the financial pressure on the government, along with the unpopularity of the scheme, makes it untenable going forward. However, a Department for Transport source said that data and evidence are continuing to be collected ahead of future decisions on the scheme.

The Department for Transport is also spending £47.5m on 27 new schemes to boost the safety of some of England's most high-risk roads. 

The plans include redesigning junctions and improving signage and road markings, and it is claimed that the program should prevent 760 fatal and serious injuries over the next 20 years. 

Despite this announcement, concerns remain about the safety of smart motorways, and it remains to be seen what decision the government will make about the future of this controversial scheme.

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