United Kingdom

Safety measures on smart motorways to be fast-tracked after road bosses ordered to ramp up rollout 

Road bosses were yesterday ordered to draw up plans to ramp up the rollout of smart motorway safety measures.

Highways England officials have been told by roads minister Baroness Vere to devise a blueprint to fast-track the installation of life-saving measures on the controversial roads and submit it by this weekend – ahead of crisis talks with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday.

It comes after a coroner ruled this week that smart motorways, which use the hard shoulder as a 'live' traffic lane, present an 'ongoing risk of future deaths' after the deaths of two drivers on the M1 near Sheffield. 

Mr Shapps ordered a 'stock take' of the system in 2019. But potentially life-saving technology has only been rolled out on about 83.6 miles of motorway, and only around 26.8 miles over the last year, according to analysis by the AA. The remaining 523 miles is to be completed in 2023.

But potentially life-saving technology has only been rolled out on about 83.6 miles of motorway, and only around 26.8 miles over the last year, according to analysis by the AA. The remaining 523 miles is to be completed in 2023

Highways England officials have been told by roads minister Baroness Vere to devise a blueprint to fast-track the installation of life-saving measures on the controversial roads and submit it by this weekend. Pictured: M3 smart motorway

Yesterday the Mail revealed a Department for Transport lawyer warned highway bosses nearly ten years ago that smart motorways could lead to deaths and corporate manslaughter charges.

Smart motorways are controversial because cars that break down can be marooned in fast moving traffic due to the hard shoulder being turned into a live lane of traffic.

They have refuge areas where drivers can stop but are spaced up to 1.5 miles apart. Motoring groups have long called for them to be spaced more frequently.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered a 'stock take' of the system in 2019

An industry source was sceptical about the talks between Mr Shapps and Highways England, saying: 'I don't see how it's going to be done. Highways England will say 'OK we need some more cash', but the Department for Transport will probably say no.'

Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the Commons' transport committee, said: 'It seems we were right to suspect the policy [of smart motorways] was and is ill-thought out and unsafe.'

Edmund King, AA president, said: 'Questions were asked by government lawyers ten years ago when the plans to remove the hard shoulder were discussed.

'Had our calls for more emergency laybys been listened to a decade ago, we may not be in this position.'

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