The Government is launching an urgent review into driver safety on smart motorways, amid growing pressure to halt their roll-out.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs that greater detail was needed on how safety on smart motorways compared with regular motorways and that the review would report back “in a matter of weeks”.
Mr Shapps told the House of Commons “we know people are dying” on smart motorways and said he wanted to ensure all motorways are as safe as they can be.
News of the review comes a day after the head of Highways England admitted that smart motorways with “dynamic hard shoulders” were confusing for drivers.
Jim O’Sullivan told the Transport Select Committee that the sections of road where hard shoulders were opened to traffic at busy times were “too complicated” for motorists and no more would be built.
The safety of smart motorways has been called into question following a number of high-profile deaths and motoring bodies including the AA and Gem Motoring Assist have called for a full review of them before any more are built.
Mr O’Sullivan has previously insisted that smart motorways are “as safe or safer than conventional motorways”.
Mr Shapps said: “The House, I know, is very concerned about smart motorways.
“I’ve heard those concerns raised today and previously and I have asked my department to carry out at pace an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.
“I think some of the statistics have been difficult to understand, and we know people are dying on smart motorways.
“Of course, we know 70 or 80 people die a year on full motorways.
“Understanding whether they are less safe, the same or safer – it turns out not to be as straightforward as members might imagine – I want all of those facts and recommendations that can be put into place to ensure that all of our motorways are as safe as they possibly can be.
“I will get this done in a matter of weeks.”
Concentrate on avoidable deaths
Edmund King, president of the AA has been campaigning for a review and said he was “delighted” by Mr Shapps’ comments. He added that the review “must concentrate on avoidable deaths by introducing more emergency refuge areas”.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes also welcomed the review. He said: “We know from our own research that drivers feel the permanent removal of the hard shoulder compromises safety. They also tell us that emergency SOS areas are located too far apart at intervals of up to 1.6 miles.
“While it’s important that we increase capacity on our motorway network, this should only be done using the safest design features and the latest technology which has sadly only been the case on a fraction of smart motorways. Drivers must have confidence that they will be protected from traffic in the event they suffer a breakdown in live lane, particularly where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed.”
Mr Lyes added that the full roll-out of stopped vehicle detection technology and introduction of more refuge areas should also be considered as a matter of urgency.