THE rollout of so-called ‘smart motorways’ is being paused amid safety concerns, the Government has announced.

The Department for Transport says it will halt the rollout of new all-lane-running smart motorways – where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane – until it has collected five years of safety data for such schemes introduced before 2020.

The decision follows a recommendation by the Commons Transport Select Committee, which said there was not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the project.

Concerns have been raised following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind.

Work is ongoing to convert a section of the M6 in Warrington to a smart motorway, as is work on the M56, while sections of the M62 in Warrington have also been ‘upgraded’.

Carriageways where the rollout of all-lane-running smart motorways is being paused include the M3 J9–14, M40/M42 interchange, the M62 J20–25, and the M25 J10–16, according to the Department for Transport.

For existing smart motorways and those that are already under construction, additional emergency refuge areas and technology to identify stopped vehicles will be installed where possible, the Government said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

“Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.”

The Government said it will invest £390 million to install more than 150 additional emergency areas, representing around a 50 per cent increase in places to stop by 2025.

The conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways – where the hard shoulder is turned on and off as a traffic lane in response to traffic flow – to all-lane-running motorways is also being paused.

National Highways will also ramp up communications so drivers have better information about how to drive on smart motorways.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Image: PA)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Image: PA)

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee, said: “It was clear to our committee that the public needs more reassurance that these motorways are safe to use.

“With conflicting and patchy evidence covering a limited number of years, more time was required to properly assess the impact on safety.

“By accepting our recommendation to pause the rollout of smart motorways, the Government will have the weight of evidence to assist planning for future road building design.

“It is important that this extra time is not just spent on evaluation – it must be focused on making smart motorways safer.

“The existing network of smart motorways must be improved to deliver more emergency refuge areas and better technology to close live lanes and reduce the risk for stranded motorists.

“The addition of £390 million is a welcome statement of intent.”

The Government also agreed with recommendations that emergency refuge areas should be no more than three-quarters of a mile apart where physically possible.

The move was welcomed by the AA motoring association, whose president Edmund King said: “The AA has been a major critic of ‘smart’ motorways in our campaign for over a decade to improve their safety.

“At last, we have a Transport Secretary who has made progress and taken a positive and pragmatic approach.

“He has today accepted many of the measures we have been calling for and our important demand that emergency refuge areas should be no more than three-quarters of a mile apart.”

Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.

There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder.