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Plans for new smart motorways scrapped by Government, but is it enough?

Smart motorways have become a hot topic in the news recently; but you may be wondering why, or what has changed.  Recently, the Government has been reviewing plans for new proposed smart motorways and it was announced over the weekend that proposed plans for the building of further smart motorways has now been scrapped.  However, there remain calls for the Government to do more, including scrapping those smart motorways which currently exist, which are argued to pose a risk to the public.

What is a smart motorway and where are they?

There are three main types of smart motorways.  These are:

  • Controlled, which have a permanent hard shoulder but use variable speeds limits to adjust traffic flows;
  • Dynamic, where the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane during peak times;
  • All-lane running, where there is no hard shoulder and simply a permanent lane in its place.  Emergency refuge areas are usually provided at regular intervals.

At present, smart motorways have been installed on the M1, M3, M4, M6, M40/42 and M62.  The purpose of smart motorways was to create more capacity and cut congestion, without causing disruption to already existing roads however, in recent years they have faced much criticism due to safety concerns.

What are the changes?

The Government had intended to further extend some of the smart motorways in place to all-lane running or expand smart motorways to motorways which at present did not operate a smart motorway system.  This included some changes to the motorways highlighted above, as well as the M1 in North Leicestershire, the M1 from Sheffield to Wakefield and the M6 from Knutsford to Croft.  The Government announced over the weekend that plans to extend smart motorways, which included 14 schemes had now been scrapped due to finances and low public confidence.

Why are they being criticised? 

Smart motorways have been criticised as it is felt that removing the hard shoulder or using it for the purpose of providing an extra lane of traffic has led to an increase in road deaths, and therefore a decrease in safety on the motorways.

Transport bodies have also now come forward to applaud the scrapping of plans, and to request that more is done to improve the safety on smart motorways.  Edmund King, president of the AA has told the BBC that the Government plans needed to go further and restore the permanent hard shoulder to existing smart motorways.  In addition, the RAC road safety spokesman, Simon Williams has said that smart motorways now need to be made “as safe as possible”.

Through our work as serious injury lawyers, we have supported clients who have lost loved ones in crashes on smart motorways.  We therefore know only too well the safety concerns surrounding them.

My colleagues Helen Smith, of our Public Law team, and fellow serious injury lawyer Chris Kardahji, have represented individuals and families affected, including Claire Mercer who was left devastated when her husband Jason was fatally injured in a collision on a smart motorway

Under the Government’s plan, existing smart motorways will remain and undergo a previously announced safety refit to create 150 more emergency stopping zones and improved technology.

It is welcomed news to hear the Government’s intentions to improve and review the safety of smart motorways as part of the UK’s roads.  It is hoped that with these further safety changes, there will be less deaths and accidents on motorways.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in road traffic accidents at our dedicated section on our website.