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Work on motorways that are missing the customary hard shoulder will be suspended, the government has confirmed.  The families of people killed on smart motorways are said to have welcomed a Government decision to pause their rollout over safety concerns (Express). ‘The government’s decision comes in light of a House of Commons Transport Select Committee report, penned by a cross-party group of MPs. The report called for a halt to the ALR programme, as well as multiple safety improvements.’ (Motor1.com).

02/11/2021, the Transport Committee issued its report (available at UK Parliament).  It has taken over 2 months for government to respond and pause the ‘smart’ motorway rollout, 12/01/2022 – UK.gov.

But this is a suspension, not an end to the roads.  Whilst ‘ditching the hard shoulder proved too hard a sell to MPs and motorists‘ (Guardian), it appears Government hope the public’s mood will soften and enable a return to the project in a few years – a delay of 5 years? (BBC)

The ingrained ‘head-left’, beyond the slow lane, to an empty, haven in the case of emergency (collision, fire, spill or vehicle failure) was changed abruptly and it appears a more cautious roll out may be planned; seemingly road users need to be educated, re-programmed.  But is also seems the supportive technology requires attention.  Possibly the safety/monitoring features that would make such a drastic change palatable was mis-sold to those who approved the schemes?  If so, why?

Much is made of our roads being safer, of declining incident figures.  But is this a true indicator of safer roads and supportive of removing the extra lane, the safe refuge we are all familiar with and understand is present in the case of the unexpected?  Is comparing pre-smart motorway statistics with post-smart motorway statistics appropriate?  Can the figures be extrapolated to identify whether, had our familiar, classic, hard-shoulder roads continued unchanged, emergency events would have decreased still further?

Improvements in vehicles (safety in particular), faster attendance by rescue services (Authority and private), slower moving traffic (congestion, giving rise to the need for an additional lane) have likely all had an impact on driving habits and incident statistics.  Has the creation of an additional lane, intended to make roads less congested and in turn enable increased speeds, coupled with the lack of a refuge and (apparently) ‘difficulty’ in monitoring, given rise to events that would otherwise not have occurred i.e. adversely affected the safety and in turn statistics?

Please consider:

Taking the Engineer’s Smart Motorway poll (click here)

Following SMK – fighting in the names of those so far who are known to have lost their lives on these roads (click here)

Smart motorways: What are they, how much have they cost the taxpayer – and why are they being shelved? (click here)

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