A stretch of the M6 is to be upgraded as part of a rethink on smart motorways, the government has announced.
The Department of Transport has announced a new scheme to make all existing smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder equipped with new technologies to make them as safe as possible for drivers.
The 13.6-mile stretch of the M6 between Coventry and Coleshill, which has been converted into a smart motorway, will now be upgraded as part of the scheme.
Parts of the M1, M4, M5, M42 and M62 which have been converted are also set to be equipped with new safety measures.
This will include £390 million to install more than 150 additional Emergency Areas, giving drivers have more places to stop if they experience difficulties on the road.
The government has announced they will pause the roll-out of new all lane running smart motorways, with plans to ‘upgrade’ existing ones with new safety technology as part of a £900 million scheme..
The roll-out of new ALR smart motorway schemes will be halted until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available, the government has confirmed.
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.
Under the rethink, by 2025, there will be a 50% increase in places to stop for drivers on smart motorways, the Transport Committee said.
The remainder of the funding will be used to deliver other measures such as Stopped Vehicle Detection and concrete central reservation barriers.
National Highways will also ramp up communications so drivers have better information about how to drive on smart motorways.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety. I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.
“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 multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps. I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”
In line with the Committee’s recommendations, National Highways will pause the conversion of Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways into All Lane Running motorways, turning the hard shoulder into an extra lane when the road is busy.
Highways England previously announced plans to remove the hard shoulder from all dynamic hard shoulder motorways, turning them into all lane running roads, by March 2025.
However, these plans will be halted.
National Highways said it will investigate alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers.
They will also install technology to detect stopped vehicles on these sections.
National Highways CEO Nick Harris said: “We have listened to public concerns about smart motorways and we are fully committed to taking forward the additional measures the Transport Committee has recommended.
“While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.”
MPs have previously expressed concerns that existing smart motorways ‘confuse’ drivers, going against plans to axe hard shoulders on motorways following tragic deaths.
Eight-year-old Dev Naran, from Leicester, was fatally injured when his grandfather’s Toyota was hit by a lorry after the car pulled up on the hard shoulder on the M6 in Birmingham in May 2018.
His mother, Meera Naran, has praised the scheme as a step in the right direction to improving safety on motorways, but said there needs to be more legislation to monitor drivers on the road.
“Conventional and smart motorways both have their risks and benefits. I welcome this pause in the rollout of smart motorways which will give us all a positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network,” she said.
“I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900 million to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died. However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for Autonomous Emergency Braking and further support for on-going driver education.”
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