Smart motorways: development halted after parliamentary report deems them 'death traps'

While smart motorways were designed to make motorists lives easier, a report from an all-party parliamentary group branded them a “death trap”.

This is what you need to know about the developments surrounding smart motorways (Photo: Shutterstock)
This is what you need to know about the developments surrounding smart motorways (Photo: Shutterstock)

This is what you need to know about smart motorways - and why their development is being halted amid safety fears.

‘Death trap’

The BBC’s investigative programme Panorama reported that 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the last five years, which has prompted the government to overhaul the entire network.

Panorama discovered that, on one section of the M25, near misses have increased 20-fold since the hard shoulder was taken away.

According to a Freedom of Information request, in the five years before the road was converted into a smart motorway there were just 72 near misses. In the five years after, this number increased to 1,485.

Smart motorways ‘mislead’ Government minister

A former Government minister who approved the roll out of smart motorways told Panorama that he was misled about the risks of the system.

Sir Mike Penning said, “They are endangering people’s lives. There are people that are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”

Sir Penning wasn’t the only one who felt he had been misled, with Police Federation chairman John Apter telling The Daily Telegraph that Highways England had deceived the public and authorities.

Apter said, “We were told technology would be so advanced that if there was an obstruction the system would pick it up, help would be dispatched and the gantry would flash up a warning closing the affected lane.

“We have been completely misled and a poor system has been introduced.”

Apter went on to say that the roads should not be labelled as “smart” because they can be a “death trap”.

Halting the roll out of motorways

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that there would not be any new stretches of smart motorways until the government has completed its review, which was announced last year.

Shapps said, “For me, we must make them at least safe, if not safe [than regular motorways], otherwise they cannot continue.”

What are smart motorways?

According to the RAC, a smart motorway is “a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas”.

These methods include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

However, this means that motorists who break down on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62 are left in the traffic, since the hard shoulder is just another driving lane.

It was announced by Highways England that an additional 300 miles of smart motorways without hard shoulders would be rolled out across England by 2025 - however, these plans have been halted following safety fears.