Luton MP Sarah Owen has welcomed news that the rollout of controversial smart motorway schemes is to be paused.
The Luton North MP used her first ever question in Parliament in 2019 to question the safety of the smart motorways following a series of fatal incidents on the M1. These included an HGV striking a people carrier near J11a, resulting in the death of one of the passengers.
The Department of Transport has announced today (Wednesday) that the rollout of smart motorway schemes introduced before 2020 will be paused until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available, following recommendations from the Transport Committee.
Miss Owen said: “This is a very welcome announcement but it is long overdue and it has sadly come at great financial cost and lives lost.
"Campaigners have long called for a halt to the roll out of this expensive programme which had raised safety and efficiency concerns.
"It was such a concern that in response to my survey of Luton road users, over 90% of people said they felt that SMART motorways were dangerous and many wrote to say how uncomfortable they felt using them and shared dangerous their experiences.
"It was clear nobody wants them and they were anything but SMART in design or delivery for road users. I hope that the many hundreds of millions of pounds that was going to be used on the SMART Motorway roll out can now go to better use - improving road safety, road conditions and accessibility for public transport would be a good start.”
A spokesman for the DoT said: "Although available data shows smart motorways are comparatively the safest roads in the country in terms of fatality rates, while their rollout is paused, the Government will go further by ensuring current smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder are equipped with best-in-class technology and resources to make them as safe as possible.
"This will include investing £390 million to install more than 150 additional Emergency Areas so drivers have more places to stop if they get into difficulty. This will represent around a 50% increase in places to stop by 2025, giving drivers added reassurance."
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety. I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.
“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.
“Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps. I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”
National Highways CEO Nick Harris said: “We have listened to public concerns about smart motorways and we are fully committed to taking forward the additional measures the Transport Committee has recommended.
“While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.
“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”
Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose 8-year-old son Dev, died in a motorway crash on the M6 in 2018, said: “Conventional and smart motorways both have their risks and benefits. I welcome this pause in the rollout of smart motorways which will give us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network.
Also, in line with the Committee's recommendations, National Highways will pause the conversion of Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways – where the hard shoulder is open at busy times – into All Lane Running motorways, while it investigates alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers. National Highways will also install technology to detect stopped vehicles on these sections.