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A REPORT by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee on so-called smart motorways says there was not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with plans.

It called for a halt to further development of smart motorways until five years worth of data was available to evaluate their safety.

It called on on the Department for Transport and National Highways to:

  • Retrofit emergency refuge areas to existing all-lane running Smart Motorways to make them a maximum of one mile apart, decreasing to every 0.75 miles where physically possible;
  • Insert the emergency corridor manoeuvre into the Highway Code to help emergency services and traffic patrol officers to access incidents when traffic is congested;
  • Commission the Office for Rail and Road to conduct an independent evaluation of the effectiveness and operation of stopped vehicle technology; and,
  • Beginning in September 2022, task the Office of Rail and Road with evaluating the Department’s progress, particularly the incidences and response times for live lane breakdowns and educating drivers on the correct action to take.

Smart motorways use the hard shoulder as a permanent live traffic lane to increase capacity and critics say this has contributed to deaths on the roads despite technology used to maintain the flow of traffic and provide information on overhead displays.

There was concern from the committee that the technology aimed at monitoring incidents in ‘live’ lanes was not effective enough.

The committee’s report said: “The government and National Highways should pause the rollout of new all-lane running schemes until five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020 and the implementation of the safety improvements in the government’s action plan has been independently evaluated.”

The Department for Transport said it would consider the recommendations.

The AA gave both written and verbal evidence to the committee and President, Edmund King, said: “This is a pragmatic report which reflects many of the actions we had been calling for. We have campaigned consistently for ERAs at least every three quarters of mile and have been pushing for a rapid retrofit programme. The committee also takes up our proposal for All Lane Running schemes to revert to the hard-shoulder between 7pm-7am to avoid confusion and to offer a refuge to counter live lane collisions that happen at night.

“We also called for better evaluation of the Stopped Vehicle Detection technology and questioned why it hadn’t been fitted before schemes opened. The report reflects our view that controlled motorways with a hard shoulder are the safest option and that the business case for these should be examined.

“The AA called for a new Highway Code rule in 2017 to create an emergency corridor in stationary traffic to allow emergency services access to incidents on motorways where there is no continuous hard shoulder. We are pleased that the committee has endorsed that call and we are already working with National Highways on this matter.

“We hope that the Government will respond quickly to these recommendations so that action can be taken to improve the safety of smart motorways and the public’s perception of these roads.”

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