Ministers halted the rollout of 120 miles of smart motorway last night as safety fears about the ‘death trap’ roads continued to grow.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said £390million would be spent on building 150 extra emergency laybys so drivers whose vehicles have broken down don’t have to stop in live traffic.
It will boost the number of laybys on smart motorways by about 50 per cent and mean they are no more than a mile apart.
Currently they are up to 1.5 miles apart, which motoring groups warn is unsafe.
The development is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has campaigned for better safety on the controversial roads.
It came after a damning report by the Commons transport committee last year called on ministers to act over deadly flaws.
Campaigner: Claire Mercer’s husband died on a live lane
Mr Shapps said he was adopting the report’s recommendations in full.
But despite halting the construction of 120 miles of ‘all-lane-running’ (ALR) smart motorway – in which the hard shoulder is replaced with a lane in permanent use, a further 100 miles will go ahead because these stretches are more than 50 per cent complete and it was deemed safer to finish them.
The 120 miles will be paused until April 2024 so five years of safety data can be collected from more than 200 miles of schemes before a decision is made on whether it is safe to roll out new ALR roads.
The delayed schemes are made up of stretches totalling 60 miles on each carriageway.
Mr Shapps also agreed to consider letting the Office of Rail and Road sign off all new roads on health and safety grounds. The watchdog will also review radar technology meant to detect vehicles marooned in live lanes within 20 seconds. Officials claim it isn’t effective.
He will also re-evaluate dynamic hard shoulder and controlled motorways. The former have a hard shoulder used as a live line intermittently, while the latter retain a hard shoulder but use variable speed limits.
AA president Edmund King said: ‘At last we have a Transport Secretary who has taken a positive and pragmatic approach.’ But he added: ‘The AA view remains that controlled motorways with a hard shoulder are the safest option.’
The delayed schemes are made up of stretches totalling 60 miles on each carriageway
Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said the decision was ‘an unqualified victory for drivers’.
Claire Mercer, who blames smart motorways for her husband’s death, hailed it as a positive move, but said all motorways should have a hard shoulder.
Her husband Jason, 44, died in June 2019 when a lorry hit him on the M1 where the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane.
Mr Mercer and delivery driver Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were involved in a shunt, and were struck and killed when they stopped to exchange details.
Mrs Mercer, 45, said: ‘The undercover report the Daily Mail did was a massive stepping stone in the campaign and proved… these roads really are as dangerous as we said they were.’ While today’s report does not go as far as she would like, she added: ‘At least it will save lives.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason’
Fellow committee member Greg Smith said: ‘I’m deeply sceptical of the safety of all-lane running and so-called smart motorways.
Roads must be safe, and I just don’t see how all lane running possibly can be.’
Former roads minister Sir Mike Penning said: ‘The Government has not gone far enough. It seems illogical to pause the rollout of new ALR sections on the basis that more safety data is needed, but allow existing sections to operate. Either we are happy that ALR is safe or we’re not.’
But Mr Shapps rejected reinstating hard shoulders, insisting it would lead to more deaths by pushing up to 25 per cent of traffic on to dangerous smaller roads. He pointed out that the transport committee had not called for hard shoulders to be reinstated.
He told the Mail: ‘There will be campaigners who say ‘No, no, no, just go back to reinstating the hard shoulder,’ but the committee didn’t think that was a good idea. Although people think they’re safe, they’re not.
‘One in 12 fatalities take place on the hard shoulder.’
He acknowledged, however, the data was ‘incomplete’ on whether ALR motorways were safe.
He said: ‘We don’t have enough, so we will pause for five years’ data as per the committee request and then be able to reassess it.’
Shapps gives undercover report ‘huge credit’
By Transport Correspondent for the Daily Mail
The Daily Mail’s investigation into smart motorways was praised by Grant Shapps last night after he agreed it had highlighted dangerous flaws – and that it could save lives.
The Transport Secretary said the Mail deserved ‘huge credit’ for sending an undercover reporter into a CCTV control centre in South Mimms, Hertfordshire, responsible for smart sections of the M25, M1 and M4.
He said our findings ‘spurred us to move faster’ and announce yesterday’s safety measures. Among our revelations last year was that more than one in ten safety cameras were broken, misted up or facing the wrong way.
CCTV: Smart motorway camera operator
His own subsequent probe found 14 per cent of cameras – which spot drivers stranded in live lanes of traffic – were out of action.
Mr Shapps said: ‘I was very concerned to read the Mail investigation. What your reporter found about cameras, it’s true. I don’t think that’s good enough. If we’re calling it smart, it damn well needs to be smart. Those cameras need to be fixed immediately.
‘What your investigation showed was the safety culture needs to be in a completely different place.
‘The Mail is due huge credit for backing up something that I think a lot of motorists, myself included, would be concerned about.
‘The Mail has done a great service to the public and motorists.
‘Your actions… will undoubtedly save loved ones in the future.’
The Mail, Sep 27, 2021