More smart motorways will not be introduced unless they are as safe as regular motorways, says transport minister

The roll-out of smart motorways cannot continue if they are not at least as safe as regular motorways, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 11:48 am
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 2:01 pm
Plans to create a smart motorway on the M27 have caused a lot of controversy

Mr Shapps said the government is taking time to carry out an evidence-based stock-take on the safety of smart motorways ‘to get a much better outcome’.

Shadow transport minister Karl Turner called on Mr Shapps to ‘act now’ and scrap ‘death trap’ all-lane running motorways.

Smart motorways have been criticised because they do not have a hard shoulder and drivers who break down can be trapped in the speeding traffic. The M27 in Hampshire is currently being converted to one between junctions 4 and 11.

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Mr Turner said that on a 16-mile stretch of the M1, five people have been killed in just 10 months.

‘It’s been clear for some time that all lane running motorways are death traps,' he said.

Mr Turner added: ‘The Secretary of State has the power to scrap these dangerous motorways now, so will he stop this dither and delay, act now to avoid further tragic deaths and serious injuries.’

Mr Shapps replied: ‘It is very important that we gather all the facts. Sadly 1,700-plus people died in 2018 on all of our roads. Motorways are the safest of those roads and the question is are smart motorways less safe than the rest of the motorway network.

‘For me, the answer is we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they can't continue.

‘But we have to actually do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of victims and also all the other organisations like the AA, RAC, and honourable members of this House.

‘So, it does take time to do this correctly, but I don't think he'll be disappointed with the results.’

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Labour's Lilian Greenwood, former chair of the transport select committee, asked the Government to move more rapidly on the matter.

‘The Secretary of State's right honourable friend the member for Hemel Hempstead (Conservative MP Mike Penning) has this week accused Highways England of a shocking degree of carelessness in rolling out all lane running and the chairman of the Police Federation described smart motorways as being inherently dangerous and a death trap.

‘I welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement of a rapid evidence stock-take and he promised to bring forward recommendations in a matter of weeks - it has now been three months.

‘What's he going to do and when to prevent further avoidable deaths?’

Mr Shapps replied: ‘She's absolutely right about that stock-take. Two things have happened. One, of course, the general election intervened and took some weeks.

‘The other thing that has happened, and I have to say this to her in all sincerity, I have also uncovered a range of different issues that I am not content to simply brush over, so have requested further information.’