The UK government has been urged to pay closer attention to potential safety concerns that may impact on its plans to roll out more smart motorways throughout the country.
MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee warned earlier this year that plans to increase the number of motorways using ‘all-lane running’, where the hard shoulder is deployed as an additional traffic lane, should not proceed unless worries about the safety of the solution are adequately answered.
However, the government had indicated that it intends to press ahead with these plans regardless of these concerns. Such schemes already exist on sections of the M42, M1, M6 and M5 and the Department of Transport is keen to expand them as a means of increasing the capacity of the UK’s motorway network without costly widening works.
Chair of the committee Louise Ellman said that while the committee does not dispute the need for extra capacity on the UK’s roads and supports smart motorway schemes such as that on the M42, it is concerned about the government’s attitude towards such solutions.
“We take real issue with the government’s assertion that all-lane running schemes on motorways are no different to other types of roads without hard shoulders,” Ms Ellman said. “Motorways are a different class of road and drivers have different expectations when using them.”
She added that the committee remains concerned about the size and spacing of Emergency Refuge Areas, noting that plans to increase the number of smart motorway sections using this – such as the recently-approved M4 scheme – should not have gone ahead until a review is complete.
This echoes recent calls from motoring organisations such as the AA, which recently revealed that many drivers are worried about the safety implications of all-lane running. It also called on road planners to increase the frequency and length of refuges in order to improve the safety of smart motorways.